Muizzu’s Outreach to India: Building Bridges for the Prosperity of the Nation

President Muizzu (R) and Prime Minister Modi’s meeting: Both leaders engaged in productive discussions during the trip.

India has always been the Maldives’ closest ally. Both countries share historical connections and trade routes, and beyond that, we enjoy a beautiful relationship at both the government and people-to-people levels. India was the first country to recognize the Maldives when we gained independence from Britain in 1965. For medical reasons, studies, and vacations, India has long been a top destination for Maldivians. Recently, India has also become one of the top contributors to our tourism industry, with many Indians choosing the Maldives as their holiday destination.

During the long presidency of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, we maintained a neutral stance in foreign relations, though India remained our best friend, assisting in crises such as the 1988 terror attack. Under the MDP’s governments from 2008-2012 and 2018-2023, Maldives’ foreign policy leaned towards India, while under the PPM’s government from 2013-2018, the Maldives leaned towards China.

During the MDP’s government, the PPM raised suspicions about the Maldives’ relationship with India, alleging the presence of Indian military personnel and orchestrating an ‘India Out’ campaign. Although the former PPM leader and president, Abdulla Yameen, who had aligned the Maldives with China, failed to secure candidacy, many believed that their candidate, Dr. Mohamed Muizzu, would continue Yameen’s China policy.

This expectation was confirmed when Muizzu broke the long tradition of Maldives presidents making their first official trip to India. Instead, he visited China and sent an indirect message to India, stating that the Maldives, despite being a small country, should not be bullied. He initiated talks with India to remove Indian military personnel from the Maldives and purchased drones from Turkey to replace India’s gifted and Indian-operated Dornier aircraft used for rescue operations. This further strained the relationship.

The situation escalated when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promoted the Lakshadweep Islands as a tourist hotspot, leading many government supporters, including three deputy ministers, to mock Modi and India. This sparked a significant backlash, with top Indian celebrities calling for a boycott of the Maldives. This concerned politically unbiased Maldivians and those in the tourism sector, as India is a top source of tourism revenue for the Maldives. During the European summer, when Europeans do not visit, it is the Indians who fill Maldivian resorts.

President Muizzu (R) with India’s external Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Moreover, India is an ideal location for many Maldivians seeking medical treatment, supported by the Maldives government health insurance, which covers treatment in southern Indian cities. If Indians boycotted the Maldives, it would make it difficult for Maldivians to travel to India.

Additionally, India often provides financial aid to the Maldives, such as budget support and funding for projects. If India ceased this support, it would significantly impact the Maldives.

Despite these factors, the government initially showed little interest in improving relations with India. However, the situation began to change when Maldives Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer traveled to New Delhi, met with Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and negotiated to delay a loan payment. With multiple payments due and low revenue, the Maldives needed this support from India.

Soon after, India announced a USD 50 million budget support for the Maldives in the form of a rollover of a USD 50 million Treasury Bill for an additional year, facilitated through the State Bank of India (SBI) in Male’, effective from May 13, 2024. This indicated that the Maldivian government was slowly easing its stance towards India.

Another sign of easing tensions was when Maldives Tourism Minister Ibrahim Faisal acknowledged the importance of India’s support in boosting the Maldives’ tourism sector and invited Indians to continue visiting the Maldives. In an interview with PTI, he stated, “We have always found the Indian government very helpful in times of need. I want to invite Indians to be part of Maldives tourism. Our economy relies heavily on tourism, and with India’s large population and significant market potential, their contribution is crucial. My final message to Indian tourists is to please join us and be part of Maldives tourism.”

The clearest indication of the government’s renewed friendliness towards India came when President Muizzu accepted India’s invitation to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi. Muizzu traveled to Delhi with the Minister of Economy and Finance this week, signaling an opportunity to restart economic connections. During this visit, Muizzu was seen having friendly interactions with Modi, chatting and smiling, and was often close to him among other regional leaders. He paid courtesy calls to both Modi and Indian President Droupadi Murmu.

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar also paid a courtesy call to President Muizzu. Both parties concluded the meeting by reaffirming their commitment to boosting Maldives-India collaboration in the coming years. During his meeting with President Murmu, Muizzu expressed gratitude for India’s continuous assistance to the Maldives and committed to preserving the close and historic ties between the two countries, looking forward to further strengthening these relations.

Additionally, most government supporters, previously critical of India, showed gratitude towards India and praised Muizzu for his trip, acknowledging his willingness to maintain relations with all countries. Jaishankar also mentioned to the press that he had a fruitful discussion with Muizzu. Former President Mohamed Nasheed, the closest friend of India among Maldivian politicians, expressed his happiness over Muizzu’s renewed friendship with India, stating that it is crucial for the Maldives to maintain close ties with India.

The bottom line is that easing tensions and maintaining a strong relationship with India will significantly benefit the Maldives and its people. Strengthening ties with India will boost our tourism industry, enhance our economic stability, and provide greater access to essential services, as India is a key destination for many Maldivians. Therefore, irrespective of political perspectives, it is a welcome development for the common citizens to see the Maldives fostering a closer relationship with India.

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