India was among the first to recognise Maldives after its independence in 1965 and to establish diplomatic relations with the country.
India and Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links steeped in antiquity and enjoy close, cordial and multi-dimensional relations. Relations between India and Maldives have been traditionally warm. However, during Abdulla Yameen’s presidency (2013-18), bilateral relations frayed, especially with Maldives’ economic and strategic relations with China growing rapidly.
- An Indian Ocean archipelago of around 1,192 islands that are strewn across the Equator, Maldives is known for its sandy beaches.
- It is a tourist paradise. Increasingly, its location near international sea lanes through which much of the world’s oil is transported has drawn attention to the archipelago’s immense strategic value
- The Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries, and is a 99 per cent water-nation. it is also the smallest country in Asia and is categorised as a Small Island Developing State (SIDS).
- Interestingly, with an average elevation of 1.5 metres (4 feet 11 inches), Maldives is the lowest-lying country on the planet. With the highest elevation being just 2.3 metres (7 feet 7 inches) above sea level, the archipelago has the world’s lowest naturally-occurring ‘highest-point’
- In view of these natural traits, the existential threats from environmental catastrophes, such as tsunamis and sea-level rise, loom large over the Maldives
1. Economic: Despite its small size, the Maldives is currently being wooed by a number of developed and developing countries. Because of Strategic Importance of the Geographic Location of the Maldives with respect to Key International Shipping Lanes (ISLs).
- The Indian Ocean is a key highway for global trade and energy flows. The Maldives is geographically positioned like a ‘toll gate’ between the western Indian Ocean chokepoints of the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Hormuz on the one hand, and the eastern Indian Ocean chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca on the other.
- It is extremely important for India’s strength in blue economy through sustainable management and utilisation of marine resources.
2. Security: Maldives is important for political stability and security in the Indian Ocean Neighbourhood and protection of Indian trade and investment.
- They have a clear responsibility in maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean. India to see Maldives supporting the Pacific strategy of the Quad — a strategic arrangement between India, US, Japan and Australia.
- India being a net provider of security, it is also our responsibility to maintain peace and security in the region. So these two are complementary approaches and we are working on that.”
3. Anti-terror Operations
- It is standing With India in anti terror operations. Maldives is deeply affected by radical elements.
- India and Maldives are also engaged in deep defence cooperation as well as in counterterrorism measures. Both sides held their meetingof the Joint Working Group on counterterrorism, countering violent extremism and de-radicalization.
4. Global Support: Maldives supports India’s permanent membership and India’s candidature for a non- permanent seat to the year 2020-21
- Both are members of commonwealth and have supported each other on international forums such as NAM and the
5. Curbing China’s ambition: It is key that Male treats India as the “first among equals” when it comes to China. When Solih came to power, he categorically said India First policy is my foreign policy.
6. In 2016, an Action Plan between India and the Maldives was signed for ‘defence cooperation’ to enhance “shared strategic and security interests of the two countries in the Indian Ocean region”.
The kind of economic situation in which Yameen had left Maldives was very dire. There were debts, there were sovereign guarantees, the private sector had taken loans from Chinese banks and the government had given a guarantee, which is not a norm. It was a much messed up situation so the economy needed resuscitation so we announced an economic package for them.
- Economic recovery package – India had offered Maldives an economic recovery package of $1.4 billion during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the island nation in December 2018.
- Line of credit – Subsequently, India also announced line of credit and currency swap deals to Maldives.
- Infrastructure development projects – India is engaged in developing 45 infrastructure development projects in Maldives compared to nine by Saudi Arabia, nine by Kuwait, one by The Netherlands, and one each by Pakistan and China, the envoy said.
- Greater Malé Connectivity Project in Maldives through a financial package consisting of a grant of $100 million and a new Line of Credit of $400 million.
- This is going to be the largest civilian infrastructure project in Maldives, connecting Malé with three neighboring islands with the construction of a bridge-and-causeway link spanning 6.7 km.
- India is engaged in building a road project in southern Maldives, water and sanitation project across the country and an airport extension project among others.
- Medical Support
- Series of health and humanitarian assistance provided in 2020 that included donation of 5.5 tons of essential medicines, airlifting of 6.2 tons of medicines by the IAF from various India cities through Operation Sanjeevani,
- Supply of 580 tons of food aid under Mission SAGAR by INS Kesari and deployment of Rapid Response Medical Team to assist.
- Covid-19 support- Maldives was the first country to receive Covid-19 vaccines from India when India gifted 100,000 doses in January 2021.
- Creation of an Air Travel Bubble to facilitate movement of people from both sides for employment, tourism, medical emergencies etc. Maldives was the first neighboring country with which an air bubble was operationalized. This has boosted tourist inflow in Maldives and India became the largest tourists sending country for Maldives.
- Commencement of direct cargo ferry service between India and Maldives to enhance sea connectivity and provide predictability in supplies and reduce logistics cost for India Maldives trade.
Challenges in the relations:
- Domestic political grievances – Democratic institutions have been weakened. Fragile democracy can also be susceptible to radical ideologies, if not effectively governed.
- Hub of terrorism
- Political instability & socio economic instability are the main drivers fueling the rise of lslamist radicalism in the island nation.
- Maldives is being radicalized by Saudi Arabia. Maldives accounted for one of the highest numbers ISIS terrorist in terms of per capita.
- Chinese factor in the Maldives
- The growing Chinese influence in the Maldives, consequent upon the planned- or ongoing execution of a large number of Beijing-led investment projects, is a major concern for India.
- Maldives has emerged as an important ‘pearl’ in China’s “String of Pearls”construct in South Asia.
- Economical : Bilateral trade between countries is extremely low Maldives and India does not have FTA.
- Anti-India sentiments -‘India Out’ campaign
- long-standing controversy over the two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF) that were given by India to the Maldives in 2010 and in 2015, both of which were used for ocean search-and-rescue operations, maritime weather surveillance and for airlifting patients between islands. Indian officers had been sent to the Maldives to train the Maldives National Defence Force, under whose command these helicopters operate.
- But some in the anti-India constituency, were trying to portray that by gifting these helicopters, India was creating military presence in the country because they were military choppers
- Lack of transparency – A recurring complaint is the lack of transparency in agreements being signed between the Solih government and India.
- Misunderstanding of India’s efforts -local Maldivian media speculated that UTF Harbour Project agreement signed between India and the Maldives where India was to develop and maintain a coastguard harbour and dockyard at Uthuru Thilafalhu, a strategically located atoll near the capital Male. Would be turned into an Indian naval base.
- The mobilising of ordinary citizens through the ‘India Out’ campaign is a cause for concern for India. “So India has to work on perception management in the Maldives and the Indian High Commission can do it. They need to earn the good will of the people.”
- The potential for both countries to work together on adaptive and mitigating measures against the adverse maritime-impacts of climate change is enormous.
- This potential must be realised through imaginative foreign-policy and maritime-security initiatives. While the recent ‘India-First Policy’ of the Maldives and India’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ are intuitively complementary, the challenge lies in implementing these policies with cultural, geo-economics, and geostrategic sensitivity.
- India’s vision of SAGAR has tremendous possibilities in this regard.
- We cannot control china from entering Maldives but we have to be vigil in its activity.