Rajnath, Maldives minister launch Delhi-assisted harbour construction.

Context: India and Maldives marked a major step in their growing defence cooperation by launching construction of a harbour for the Coast Guard of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

  • The UTF Harbour Project, as it is called, is among the biggest Indian grant-in-aid projects in Maldives. Previously in 2020, India had gifted a Dornier aircraft to Maldives and in 2019 handed over a patrol vessel.
  • The handing over of these vessels are in line with India’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) that seeks to work together with and jointly develop the capabilities of friends and partners for a safe, secure, prosperous and stable Indian Ocean Region
  • Further there is a need to explore additional avenues for cooperation, including in areas of defence trade, capacity building and joint exercises, according to the statement. 
  • There is also a need to promote people-to-people contact and exchanges between armed forces of the two countries and reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability and security in the region and recognised the need to work together to address common security challenges.

In the light of these recent developments, we will look at the relationship between India and Maldives.

Importance of Maldives for India

  • The geostrategic importance of the nearly 1,200 islands of the Maldives as a “most important interstate,” underlines the importance for New Delhi of positive bilateral relations with Male.
  • At present, India is dependent on oil for more than 90 percent of its energy needs, and over the next few decades, 90 percent of that oil will come from the Persian Gulf by way of the Arabian Sea.
  • Coal imports from Mozambique, are set to increase, augmenting the coal that India already imports from around the Indian Ocean from countries such as South Africa, Indonesia, and Australia.
  • Beyond refuelling stations, by maintaining access to these ports, the expanding Indian Navy can safeguard its interests by providing security for the sea lines of communication, ensuring vital resources reach India’s coast and thus emerge as a net security provider.
  • Moreover, such access provides strategic depth in any potential conflict with China, wherein India could attempt to restrict the flow of oil through the Indian Ocean to the Malacca Strait.
  • Maldives is a member of SAARC and thus is important for India to keep Maldives on board to maintain its leadership in the region and is also part of India backed Colombo security conclave ( Sri Lanka Indian and Mauritius being other members)
  • There are about 29,000 Indians in the country and almost 22,000 of them live in Male, the capital and also Indian tourists account for more than 23% of total tourist arrivals in the Maldives.
  • India is also a preferred destination of Maldivians for medical treatment, education and business

Indian Assistance to Maldives

  • Operation Cactus: In 1988, when armed mercenaries attempted a coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, India sent paratroopers & Navy vessels and restored legitimate regime under Operation Cactus.
  • 2004 Tsunami: India had aided Maldives and had also supported it during the drinking water crisis in 2014
  • COVID-19: India rushed $250 million aid in quick time, India has also rushed medical supplies to the Maldives, started a new cargo ferry. Maldives was the first beneficiary under India’s vaccine Maitri initiative
  • Two sea ambulances to the Maldives Defence Ministry
  • Infrastructure projects:

(a) Greater Male Connectivity project: An infrastructure project in Maldives, connecting Male (capital) with three neighbouring islands through construction of a bridge-and-causeway link. This project was a part of $400 million line of credit will lead to cutting down logistics cost and drive people- centric economic growth.

(b) An international airport being developed by India at Hanimadhoo in HaaaDahaalu atoll. The $ 136.6-million development of the airport at Hanimadhoo has been financed by a line of credit to the Maldives from India’s Exim Bank

(c)Housing: India is financing 4,000 social housing units and community centre in Foakaidhoo island

(d) Further a proposed collaboration between Cochin University and the Maldives National University, and a $100 million grant for “high impact community development” projects.

Concerns in India – Maldives Relationship

  • Enhanced Chinese Presence: Maldives signed its first country-specific FTA with China in 2017 and became China’s 2nd FTA in South Asia after Pakistan. It raised concerns that it will deepen debt trap to China, as more than 70% of Maldives’ foreign debt is owed to China. There has growing trend of Chinese companies acquiring land in Maldives. This land grab has raised concern of Maldives being increasingly falling into an economic neo-colonial influence of China. However President Solih has affirmed that Maldives will scrap FTA with China and investigate Chinese land grab in Maldives. The Maldives has also agreed to become a partner in China’s maritime silk route.
  • President Yameen Hangover: President Yameen had earlier declared an emergency in Maldives and halted the functioning of Maldives Parliament (Majlis) and arrested several opposition leaders. This was opposed by India and several other countries. Apart from this, President Yameen augmented relations with China without taking India into confidence. This led India-Maldives relations to decline
  • Previous President Yameen launched an ‘India Out’ campaign against India’s developmental funding for creating physical, social & community infrastructure. There have been protests for early release of Mr. Yameen — sentenced to five years of imprisonment in a money laundering case, pending appeal.
  • Growing Radicalization: There is a growing presence of ISIS/Daesh in Maldives and has been seen with growing influence of Saudi philosophy of Wahhabis.
  • New Consulate in Addu: Recently India approved Opening of a New Consulate General of India in Addu City, Maldives. But Maldivian government has not made any decision regarding it. This came in the backdrop of ongoing #saveAddu social media campaign by a section of Maldivians, who are sceptical of India’s presence in Addu atoll.
  •  Helicopter Issue: India had gifted Maldives two Advanced Light helicopters in 2013 operated by Indian Coast Guard & Indian Navy. A controversy broke out in 2018 after previous Maldives government refused to extend visas of Indian military personnel and asked India to take back helicopters.

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