Maldives has been one of India’s favourite destinations for years but recent political developments may soon require you to look for an alternative to this island. India-Maldives Relations has hit a new low owing to the fact the Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu has been increasingly alienating his country from India. Now, he has made a formal request to New Delhi to remove its military personnel by 15 March 2024.
Notably, the development comes a day after Muizzu’s visit to China, India’s regional rival. His comments that are critical of India are being viewed by most through the lens of regional rivalry.
Tensions between India and the Maldives have been on the rise since Muizzu came into power in last September based on a campaign to reduce India’s influence on the island. He was elected after he pledged to cultivate “strong ties” with China. During his election campaign in 2023, Muizzu assured to evict Indian forces. His anti-India rhetoric became evident after getting elected and is getting more pronounced with each passing day.
Muizzu is known to share a closer relationship with China instead. Both India and China have alternatively tried for influence in the tiny island country, by investing heavily in upgrading Maldives’ infrastructure, extending loans to it and boosting the island’s tourism by various means.
In January 2024, tension between New Delhi and Male escalated after three of Muizzu’s junior ministers reportedly called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “clown” and a “terrorist” in the social media posts. The same social media posts were deleted soon after a public outrage erupted from Indians.
Muizzu Has Blamed His Predecessor Of Compromising National Sovereignty
In December last year, President Muizzu claimed that, after dialogue with the Indian government, an agreement was reached to withdraw Indian military personnel.
Muizzu has blamed his predecessor of compromising national sovereignty by allowing India to have its military personnel in the Maldivian islands.
In a recent interview to an Indian daily, the President said if India did not withdraw its forces it would amount to disregarding the “democratic will” of the Maldivian people and jeopardising the future of the democracy.
India operates and maintains radars, helicopters, and aircraft in the Maldives, some of which are used for medical evacuations. The Indian Navy patrols the Indian Ocean waters. Currently, there are around 75 Indian military personnel stationed in the island. As many as 24 military personnel manage the first helicopter, 25 manage the Dornier aircraft, 26 manage the second helicopter and two look after maintenance and engineering. The Indian military in Maldives is also believed to operate two aircraft donated by India and assisting in the rescue of people stranded or faced with calamities at sea.
Why Are Indian Forces Stationed In Maldives?
The Maldives is one of the biggest beneficiaries of India’s Neighbourhood First policy.
Being India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), it occupies a special place in its initiatives like SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the Neighbourhood First Policy’ of the Modi government. The Maldives’ proximity to India, (it is barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep and 300 nautical miles from the mainland’s western coast) and location at the hub of several commercial sea lanes in the Indian Ocean gives it significant strategic importance.
The Indian government has traditionally considered the Maldives, that is home to around half a million people, to be within its sphere of influence. While on his visit to China, the Maldivian President has reportedly said, “We may be small but that doesn’t give you the licence to bully us.”