View From India | What’s happening in India-Maldives ties?

January 15, 2024 01:11 pm | Updated January 16, 2024 10:27 am IST

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India-Maldives ties, which were already going through a rough patch, took a hit over the past week with Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu asking New Delhi to withdraw its troops from the Indian Ocean island nation by March 15. Mr. Muizzu had made the ouster of Indian troops his main election pledge last year. In December, after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Dubai, on the sidelines of the UN climate talks, Male said India had agreed to pull back troops, though New Delhi has made no statement to that effect so far. “Indian military personnel will no longer be permitted to reside in the Maldives, and that the troops have been asked to leave by March 15, 2024,” Abdullah Nazim Ibrahim, the Principal Secretary to President Muizzu on Public Policy, told a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Malé, according to the local media.

The announcement comes days after of Mr. Muizzu concluded a visit to China, where both countries agreed to elevate their strategic cooperation and signed 20 MoUs. Relations have remained tense ever since Mr. Muizzu was elected President last year. Recently, a war of words erupted online, with some Ministers in Mr. Muizzu’s government posting controversial remarks on Prime Minister Modi. India expressed concerns over the comments through diplomatic channels, while celebrities and many Indian handles ran a “boycott Maldives” campaign on social networks. Three Maldives Minsters at the centre of the raw were dropped from the government, but Mr. Muizzu did not make any public remark on the controversy. Upon his return from China, Mr. Muizzu said Maldives “may be small but won’t be bullied”. The Indian Ocean “does not belong to one particular country”, and the Maldives “is not in anyone’s backyard”, he added, apparently alluding to India.

The previous Maldives government of President Ibrahim Solih had followed an ‘India First’ foreign policy, aimed at strengthening ties between the two countries that took a beating during the administration of Abdulla Yameen. Maldives grew closer to China when Yameen was the President and joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative. When Mr. Solih was in power, the opposition started an ‘India Out’ campaign to counter the President’s ‘India First’ policy. Mr. Muizzu, who was the then Opposition’s joint candidate, rode the wave of this anti-India sentiments in the Indian Ocean country, which lies just 300 nautical miles from the Indian mainland. Now, the forces who ran the ‘India Out’ campaign are in power and the strains in ties have escalated into a full-blown diplomatic crisis.

Widening war

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Who are the Houthis? We explain here.

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