The story so far: In the last three years since the President of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, was elected, an “India Out” [#IndiaOut] campaign has cropped up from time to time within the Indian Ocean island nation, primarily on social media. The campaign is being led by government critics who accuse the Solih government of “allowing Indian boots on the ground”, thereby “compromising the sovereignty” of the island nation. The administration in power has denied the existence of any Indian military presence in the country or a threat to the sovereignty of the Maldives. More recently, the campaign has gained momentum with former President Abdulla Yameen at the helm, after the Supreme Court released him on November 30, overturning his conviction in a suspected money laundering case.
- The recent “India Out” campaign in the Maldives is against opposition to the UTF Port Development Agreement which is seen as a means of allowing Indian military presence on native soil.
- Former President Abdullah Yameen recently joined this campaign. During Mr. Yameen’s tenure as president, relations between New Delhi and men deteriorated considerably. The former president is seen as a friend of China.
- The Solih government has rejected the “India Out” campaign and expressed concern about attempts to disseminate “false and unfounded information to spread hatred against India”.
What is he responding to?
The campaign has intensified around key bilateral developments such as the signing of the Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) Port Development Agreement with India in February 2021. New Delhi is helping Male develop the Guard Port. coasts of the Maldives National Defense Force. Upon signing, Maldivian Defense Minister Mariya Didi said the developed shipyard and port would give the Maldives the opportunity “to protect our maritime interests on our own, thereby strengthening our sovereignty”.
The recent “India Out” campaign has renewed opposition to the initiative, seeing it as a means of enabling India’s military presence in the island nation. Similar resistance emerged in June, when India announced the opening of a consulate in the south of Addu Atoll.
Why is President Yameen joining the campaign?
During the tenure of former strongman Yameen as president from 2013 to 2018, relations between New Delhi and men deteriorated considerably. The ultimatum from Mr. Yameen then to New Delhi to withdraw two Indian helicopters from the strategically important atolls of Laamu and Addu has exacerbated the tensions. The former president is widely seen as a friend of China, and his frequent confrontations with India, over economic and security issues, left bilateral relations rather strained at the end of his term.
On the other hand, the Solih administration has opted for an “India first” foreign policy. He doesn’t hide his preference for India as the first choice, whether on the security partnership, development assistance or the COVID response, including vaccines. India, for its part, pledged $ 1.4 billion for Maldives’ ‘socio-economic development needs’, pledged through high-level visits and lobbied to help the Maldives to. win the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly.
Mr Yameen’s defeat in the 2018 election, and the antagonistic dynamic that continues between him and New Delhi, does not bode well for India’s prospects of developing bipartisan ties in an important neighboring country. Additionally, the next presidential election is slated for 2023, and Mr. Yameen is trying to make a political comeback, exploiting both anti-nomination and anti-Indian sentiments among sections loyal to him.
What is the government’s response?
The government has rejected the “India Out” campaign and issued at least two statements in recent weeks, expressing concern over attempts to disseminate “false and unfounded information to spread hatred against India”. The Solih administration holds a “small group of individuals and a few politicians” responsible for the campaign.
In its latest statement issued on December 19, the government said it “reaffirms that the country’s long-standing ties with all of its international partners are based on principles of mutual respect and understanding, and in accordance with national and international law. respective. Such interactions in the international sphere do not and will not undermine the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Maldives. In fact, they are designed to strengthen the national interests of the Maldives and serve the people of the Maldives ”.
What are the challenges ahead for the outgoing Solih administration?
Although the government has repeatedly attributed the “India out” campaign to small, politically motivated sections, the pressure to defend its ties with India appears to be increasing. This, along with the growing challenges of tenure, which also amid the lingering impact of the pandemic, cannot be easy.
Additionally, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party has witnessed frequent tensions within, with President and former President Mohamed Nasheed – who has expressed interest in running for president in the upcoming elections, accusing President Solih of being lenient towards religious extremists and corrupt politicians. The impact of these factors on India’s future engagement in the Indian Ocean archipelago could be revealed in the coming year.