Maldives suspends three Deputy Ministers as India raises issue of disrespectful remarks against PM

The three leaders had commented about PM’s visit to Lakshadweep; Muizzu govt. distances itself from remarks; senior Maldivian leaders condemn comments

January 07, 2024 06:09 pm | Updated January 10, 2024 01:46 am IST - New Delhi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a meeting with President of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu during the COP28, in UAE.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a meeting with President of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu during the COP28, in UAE. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Indian High Commission in Maldives on Sunday “strongly raised” the issue of disrespectful remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi made by a few members of the government of President Mohamed Muizzu.

The Maldivian government suspended three Deputy Ministers who are at the centre of the controversy which erupted just a day before Mr. Muizzu is scheduled to depart for his first trip to China.

Also Read | ‘Appalling language’: Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed condemns ‘derogatory remarks’ by Mariyam Shiuna

“Our High Commission in Maldives had strongly raised and expressed concerns about the comments made in regard to PM by certain Ministers in the Maldives Government with the Foreign Office today,” a source said.

The issue started after three Deputy Ministers in the Ministry of Youth Affairs — Maryam Shiuna, Malsha Shareef and Mahzoom Majid — made disparaging remarks about India and Mr. Modi after the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Lakshadweep.

In a post on social media platform X, Ms. Shiuna referred to India’s ties with Israel and made disparaging comments about Mr. Modi. Her colleagues joined in and said that the visit by the Indian PM to Lakshadweep was aimed at challenging Maldivian tourism which prides itself on its famous beachside facilities.

These comments amplified by their supporters soon triggered a war of words on social media that escalated with Indian tourists cancelling hotel bookings in Maldives.

In a damage-control mode, the Muizzu government distanced itself from the remarks, with the Maldivian Foreign Ministry saying that “it believes in freedom of expression but that has to be exercised in a responsible manner”. “These opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the Government of Maldives. Moreover, the relevant authorities of the Government will not hesitate to take action against those who make such derogatory remarks,” the Foreign Ministry said. The three Deputy Ministers were suspended later.

Prominent Maldivians, including former Foreign Minister and former President of the UN General Assembly Abdulla Shahid condemned the comments, describing them as “reprehensible and odious”. “I call on the Government to reprimand these officials. Public figures must maintain decorum,” Mr. Shahid said.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed came down strongly on the three leaders and said, “Muizzu government must distance itself from these comments and give clear assurance to India they do not reflect gov policy.” Former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih termed the remarks as “hateful”.

The war of words that came ahead of the China visit has added to the tension as Mr. Muizzu hit the headlines soon after his November swearing-in by asking India to withdraw its military presence from the archipelago. India has been maintaining that the military presence there is mainly aimed at providing medical support to the distant islands of the Indian Ocean nation.

Mr. Muizzu subsequently met Mr. Modi during the climate summit in Dubai on December 1. He, however, chose Turkey as the destination for his first foreign visit. This was followed by the decision to visit China from January 8 to 12.

The current spat was taken up by Chinese state media outlet Global Times that praised Mr. Muizzu’s foreign policy and said, “It only demonstrates that Muizzu is treating India with a normal mind-set and steering the relationship between the Maldives and India to a normal state-state relationship.”

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