Maldives is an archipelagic nation, that has a strategic location in the middle of the Indian Ocean that also caters to the needs of India’s neighbor China to expand its developmental ties by including Maldives in the Border Road Initiative (BRI) and String of Pearls. Maldives has strategic importance to India as well and its location caters to the hub of commercial sea lanes that run via the Indian Ocean. Hence India and Maldive’s relationship is significant for political, economic, and social cooperation at the global level as well.
Deep Rooted Interests of India and Maldives
India and Maldives share close cultural, ethnic, linguistic, religious, and commercial links as India was the first to recognize Maldives after its Independence in 1965 and to establish diplomatic relations India established its mission in Male in 1972. Moreover, India’s swift response during the coup incident of 3rd November 1988 and its unconditional support and timely assistance to the Maldives during the Tsunami disaster in December 2004 depicts that India and Maldives became inseparable partners shortly. The cherry on the cake for strengthening relations between the two countries is the shorter distance between the two which further speeds up the process of assistance and gives India a position of elder brother.
Significance of their Partnership
- In the past, India has assisted Maldives in developing infrastructure in respect of cyber security, housing, and disaster management. It has also ensured credit of USD 100 million in the past for the completion of development projects in a time-bound manner.
- Economically India and Maldives have strong economic connections with India being Maldives 4th largest trading partner.
- According to the Ministry of External Affairs, India has a strong cultural connection with Maldives along with India shares second largest diaspora with the Maldives as almost 25% of teachers in Maldives are Indians and mostly at the level of senior and middle-level positions.
- During the pandemic also India has assisted Maldives by ensuring continuous supplies of vaccines.
- Both countries also enhance regional cooperation via common platforms such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium,
- Geopolitically both countries have significant contributions towards each other’s growth and their support is necessary for opposing any changes in the body. Moreover, both have similar alignment on matters of environmental protection, international peace, the fight against terrorism, and UN reform that enhances their mutual benefits.
- Problems of increasing drug abuse, a distorted labor market, growing inequality, and an economy dependent on external factors are also important areas that need to be paid attention too.
- Political Instability also calves the way of disturbances in the relations between India and Maldives, the 2015 arrest of opposition leader Mohammed Nasheed on grounds of terrorism charges posed a real diplomatic test for India and the Emergency declared in 2018 also created political turmoil in the relations of both countries.
- China acting as a bone of contention as China due to its developmental strategies is imposing its dominance in Maldives which is much closer to India. This results in weakening diplomatic ties with India’s future friend as recently Maldivian president has recently asked India to withdraw 77 military personnel, hence reducing India’s presence in Maldives.
- According to Mohammed Muizzu, President of Maldive’s pro-China policy, there is a bleak stretch in India-Maldives relations that is causing geopolitical tensions and giving momentum to the India Out Campaign that can hamper friendly relations between both countries and making easy access for China to establish its dominance in South Asia but still according to press reports more than 100 agreements have been signed between Maldives and India during the swearing-in ceremony of Mohammed Muizzu that gives a ray of hope for future developments.
Future Possibilities of Collaboration
- Area of Climate Cooperation- Maldives has an area of 90,000 sq km that encompasses 99.6 percent of the sea and has more than 1200 islands. Due to Climate Change and “Global Boiling” it is predicted that Maldives will cease to exist by 2050 and India being the closest neighbour to Maldives can be a friend in need is the friend in deed by providing collaborative assistance to coop climate threats.
- In 2008, the Maldives declared Islam as the official state religion that bars any non-Sunni from being a citizen of Maldives so both countries can collaborate to exchange their Muslim population via exchange programs to widespread cultural ties and ensure people-to-people connections.
- India can invest more in the developmental projects in Maldives that will in turn also enhance defense cooperation that will increase India’s capability to monitor Chinese maritime and naval movements.
The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbor in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’.According to the report by The Diplomat India and Maldives have reportedly agreed to look for workable solutions for continued cooperation. To further strengthen the ties the new government has to go for an anti-India regime by lowering China’s growing influence in South- Asia. Thus, Indian diplomacy must be flexible enough to engage multiple actors in each of the neighboring countries. So, dealing with whoever is in power is a good policy, but engaging only those in power is a bad policy.
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Acknowledgment: The author would like to thank Chaitanya for his kind comments and suggestions to improve the article.
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