India-Maldives Relations

Free PDF's     27th July 2023        
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Introduction: India and Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links steeped in antiquity and enjoy close, cordial and multi-dimensional relations. India was among the first to recognise Maldives after its independence in 1965 and to establish diplomatic relations with the country.

India recently commissioned the Indian grant-in-aid UTF (Uthuru Thila Falhu- Island) Harbour Project, the coastal surveillance radar system, in the Maldives. The project is a significant milestone in the growing defense ties between the two countries.

What is the UTF Project?

  • The UTF project was announced during External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s visit in February 2021.
  • It is among the biggest Indian grant-in-aid projects in the Maldives.
  • It is aimed at developing a maintenance and repair hub for naval vessels and will help the Maldives become self-sufficient.

A quick recap of bilateral ties

Economic:

  • Trade agreement signed between India and Maldives in 1981. India is Maldives' 4th largest trade partner.
  • India becomes Maldives' second-largest trading partner in 2021, experiencing a 31% growth in bilateral trade despite the pandemic.
  • Bilateral trade between India and Maldives in 2021 stands at US$ 323.9 million with the trade balance in favor of India.
  • India provides US$ 250 million financial assistance to Maldives in September 2020 to support its economic recovery.

Defence:

  • India offers the highest number of training opportunities for the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), fulfilling approximately 70% of their defence training needs.
  • A comprehensive Action Plan for Defence signed in April 2016 to strengthen the defence partnership.
  • Noteworthy initiatives in the defence sector include the establishment of the Composite Training Centre for MNDF, implementation of the Coastal Radar Surveillance System, and construction of the new Ministry of Defence Headquarters.

Disaster management:

  • India provides substantial aid to the Maldives after the 2004 tsunami and the 2014 Male water crisis. Customized training programs for the MNDF Fire and Rescue Service offered in India.

Developmental Cooperation:

  • India implements notable development projects in the Maldives, such as the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Maldives Institute of Technical Education, and the National College for Policing and Law Enforcement (NCPLE).
  • Connectivity project: India provides US $500 million in assistance for the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), the largest civilian infrastructure project in Maldives, connecting Male to three neighboring islands.
  • Currency Swap: A Bilateral US Dollar Currency Swap Agreement of $400 million signed between RBI and Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) in 2019.

Covid related assistance:

  • A 14-member Rapid Response Medical team deployed in the Maldives in March 2020 to guide and train Maldivian authorities and personnel in tackling the Corona threat.
  • Operation Sanjeevani: A special IAF plane airlifts 6.2 tonnes of essential medical supplies from India to Maldives on 2 April 2020 as part of GoI's efforts to help friendly countries in tackling the Covid-19 threat.

Causes for Anti-India Sentiments

  • Political Instability: Anti-Indian sentiments emerged when Abdulla Gayoom became president in 2013, using them for political mobilization and tilting towards China.
  • Controversy over Helicopter Gift: The opposition portrayed the gift of two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters by India for search-and-rescue operations as a military presence in the country.
  • Confidential Agreements: Agreements signed between the Ibrahim Solih government and India were not publicly discussed in the Maldives Parliament, leading to concerns.
  • Alleged Interference in Domestic Politics: Unsubstantiated perceptions and allegations have arisen regarding Indian diplomats stationed in Maldives interfering in domestic affairs.

Major Irritants in Ties

  • Political Instability: India is concerned about the impact of political instability in the region on its security and development.
  • Increasing Radicalization: The number of Maldivians drawn towards terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS) and Pakistan-based jihadist groups has been growing.
  • Inclination towards Terror: Radicalism in the Maldives increases the possibility of Pakistan-based terror groups using remote Maldivian islands as a launch pad for attacks against India and Indian interests.
  • Chinese Affinity: China's strategic influence in the region has grown, and the Maldives has become a significant component of China's "String of Pearls" construct in South Asia.

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Recent Gestures by India

  • 2014 Male Drinking-Water Crisis: India provided immediate help during the drinking water crisis in Malé by sending heavy lift transporters carrying bottled water.
  • 2020 COVID-19 Crisis: India extended financial, material, and logistical support to Maldives during the COVID-19 crisis and airlifted essential medicines and hospital consumables.
  • Greater Male Connectivity Project: India announced the signing of a $500-million infrastructure project for the construction of the Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP), involving the construction of a bridge and causeway link.

Maldives' Significance for India

  • Increasing Maritime Cooperation: The Indian Ocean has witnessed a rise in maritime economic activity, and the Maldives plays a crucial role in the region's geopolitical competition.
  • Toll Gate in Indian Ocean: The Maldives is situated at the hub of commercial sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean, with a significant volume of India's international trade passing through the region.
  • Naval Cooperation: Maldives is an important partner in India's role as the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Important SAARC Member: Maldives is a member of SAARC and SASEC, contributing to regional cooperation and economic integration.
  • People-to-People Contact: There is a significant population of Maldivian students in India, aided by a liberal visa-free regime. Medical tourism is also prominent.
  • Major Tourist Destination: Tourism is the backbone of the Maldivian economy, attracting Indian tourists and providing job opportunities.

Way Forward

  • India must continue to be an important partner of the Maldives and remain attentive to developments in the country.
  • India should play a key role in ensuring regional security in South Asia and the surrounding maritime boundaries within the Indo-Pacific security space.
  • The Indian government should not take the support of a limited population for granted and actively work towards strengthening ties with the Maldives.

Conclusion

India and Maldives share a strong bilateral relationship, but there have been instances of anti-India sentiments. The restoration of ties under President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has contributed to strengthening the relationship.

Samadhaan