India- Maldives – Growing Convergences
Dr Sreeradha Datta

The Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih visited India recently (1-4 Aug 2022). He was accompanied by several high-level officials comprising, Ibrahim Ameer, Minister of Finance, Fayyaz Ismail, Minister of Economic Development, Aishath Mohamed Didi, Minister of Gender, Family and Social Services along with a business delegation. Their first stop on the way to New Delhi was at Mumbai where they not only met with the industry and entertainment representatives but also visited one of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Authority terminal for understanding the functioning of the port. The two sides exchanged six documents, covering cyber security, disaster management, women and child development, and infrastructure development in this latest visit. The agreements reflected the growing Indian interest in this archipelago nation. The re-establishment of democratic norms and restoration of close bilateral ties has led to a burst of bilateral activities.

Growing Bilateral Sectors

India over the years has provided financial assistance for a large number of projects including police infrastructure development, 16 of which are being constructed across Maldives. India is providing US$ 5OO million for the Greater Male Connectivity Project that was also initiated during this visit. This 6.74 km bridge will easily connect Male with the neighbouring islands of Villingili, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi. Further, the Exim Bank of India is also supporting the development of 4,000 social housing units Male and India also provided a further credit line of $100m for the completion of unfinished infrastructure projects.

India has been funding many other projects in Maldives including, the Addu Roads project, provision of water and sewerage facilities at 34 islands, and restoration of Hukuru Miskiy (Friday Mosque). India has earlier also extended a US$ 40 million Line of Credit facility for sports infrastructure development as well as grant for developing 45 Community Development Projects. The new projects being planned are the Hanimaadhoo Airport Development Cancer Hospital building in Laamu.

India has been invested in capacity building in Maldives too. This year the 11th batch of 40 Maldivian Civil Service officers completed their course in India. India hopes to train 1000 officers as per the five year MOU that was signed in 2019. Around 12-14 such programmes have been planned for 2022-23. That apart, under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme Maldives offers 25 slots for training of Maldivian civilians.

Ever since President Solih has come to power the bilateral relations have become stronger and far more comprehensive covering larger areas as the above projects reflect and while for India, Maldives occupies a special place in India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, Maldives has also followed a ‘India First’ policy one that was reiterated when Solih took over. In the recent years the bilateral ties have picked up a momentum hitherto unknown to these two neighbours. This was President Solih’s second visit to India since December 2018. That apart the Foreign MinisterAbdulla Shahid has been in India twice (April and July 2021) and the Defence Minister Marya Didi in November 2021. Indian EAM has been in Male thrice including February March 2019 with a follow up in February 2022. India’s Speaker of the Lok Sabha also visited Male in December 2019 and Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Rajiv Pratap Rudy visited in February 2020. Importantly, Indian PM Modi went to Male on 17 November 2018 to participate in the swearing ceremony of President Solih and soon returned to Male in June 2019 as his first visit abroad after his second electoral term at the office. The visits speak of the growing bilateral engagement that India and Maldives is witnessing, suggesting the importance that India is according to Maldives.

India has also launched the National Knowledge Network in Maldives. And After Nepal, Bhutan, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, Maldives will be operationalising the usage of Rupay Cards. India was also the first partner to gift Covid-19 vaccines to Maldives. Not only Indians are major contributors towards the Maldivian tourism sector, Indians are also engaged in teaching, medical and other professional sectors.

Of late the strategic and defence aspect of the bilateral ties has assumed greater significance in the changing regional landscape. The two sides had agreed on defence cooperation in April 2016 which also includes training opportunities for Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) and India has trained over 1,400 MNDF trainees over the past years. India has provided a landing craft and utility vehicles to the MNDF and on this visit announced the supply of a second Landing Craft Assault (LCA) and a replacement ship for earlier provided CGS Huravee. India has also provided grant assistance of US $50 million Line of Credit facility other defence projects. India also helped Maldives in establishing the National College for Policing and Law Enforcementat Addu City that was inaugurated in March 2022. Earlier in December 2019, India gifted a ‘Made-in-India’ patrol vessel, the “Kaamiyaab” to the MNDF. While the bilateral partnership has been strengthened over time, India has also drawn in Maldives as a strong regional partner with a focus on growing security ties.

Regional Partnership

Maldives is a partner in the Colombo Security Conclave comprising India, Mauritius and Sri Lanka too. This has been one of its dialogue in the region and Maldives hosted the 5th National Security Advisor level meeting in March 2022. As an observer at Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, it has been part of the Maritime Exercise 2022 (IMEX-22) that was conducted in March 2022. India supported its entry into the Indian Ocean Rim Association that works towards increasing cooperation amongst the Indian Ocean nations. Earlier during the Covid 29 pandemic India had launched Mission Sagar an outreach initiative towards five Island nations in the Indian Ocean that included Maldives too and India was the first neighbour to send Covid vaccines as well as providing Male with 30,000 doses of measles vaccine in Jan 2020.

Undoubtedly, Delhi and Male have established close partnership and people of Maldives are benefitting from the developing infrastructural and other linkages that are evident. India’s role in establishing peace and security is known. India’s role in stabilising the situation during an attempt to overthrow President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 1988 is well documented. Since then, the two south Asian neighbours have gone through phases of ups and downs. The geo-strategic location of Maldives has lent it with a growing relevance that makes it attractive to extra regional countries which have an interest in the region. China has increased its political and economic ties with Maldives, as it has done with others in the region with its deep pockets. Undoubtedly, Male and Beijing proximity has been unnerving for India, especially in the context of the growing Sino-India differences. It goes without saying that much of what Beijing plans in the region have an India context and the ensuing security concerns are real. Maldives being barely few hundred kilometres from India’s southern tip of Lakshadweep Islands creates its own security sensitivities for New Delhi. The complexities have grown with India’s visible economic and political growth, as has the stakes for Beijing and they have cultivated political section that stirs anti India sentiments. This is true for Male too. One must remember that just a while ago, India’s ability to influence in Male had weakened during the pre-Solih years.

Certainly, Solih holds strong at present, but the vagaries of politics are well known. Even when Solih was in India there were distinct anti- India murmurs in Male and dismissing them as Chinese influence may not reflect a comprehensive understanding of ground realities. The Indo-Maldivian compatibility needs to be enduring and while government to government and leader to leader ties are strong, people to people need a deeper connect. To think that all the bilateral engagements will speak for itself may not be enough in the immediate and medium terms. People of Maldives need to be convinced that India is a stable and reliable partner and one without territorial ambitions. Same can’t be said for China and its ambitions in Maldives.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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