‘Profoundly concerned by attempts to spread misguided and unsubstantiated information to propagate hatred towards India’, says Govt.
About a fortnight since Maldives’s ex-President Abdulla Yameen walked free, after the Supreme Court overturned his conviction in a money-laundering case, the ‘India Out’ campaign in the island nation has intensified, with the former strongman now leading it.
Earlier this month, Mr. Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) said the leader would travel to the atolls to step up the ongoing campaign resisting “Indian boots on the ground” in the Indian Ocean Archipelago, even as the ruling administration denies any Indian military presence. Images of Mr. Yameen and his supporters, attired in a red t-shirt with ‘India Out’ printed in bold font, are circulating on social media, along with the ‘#IndiaOut’ hashtag.
In a statement on Sunday the Government of Maldives said it was “profoundly concerned” by attempts to spread “misguided and unsubstantiated information to propagate hatred towards India”. Calling India “one of the closest bilateral partners of the Maldives”, the Government attributed the campaign to a “small group of individuals and a few political personalities”.
“Spreading hatred and making false allegations regarding bilateral ties with neighbouring countries not only tarnishes the relations with trusted allies who extends consistent support to the Maldivian people, but also affect the safety and security of their citizens in Maldives, and Maldivians living abroad,” the Government’s statement said.
This is the second such statement issued by Male in recent weeks. On November 17, the Government “strongly rejected” attempts to spread “false information” criticising its ties with India, its “closest ally and trusted neighbour”.
India-Maldives relations deteriorated considerably when the Yameen administration was in power from 2013 to 2018. Significantly, tensions rose over Mr. Yameen’s ultimatum to New Delhi to withdraw two Indian helicopters from the strategically important Laamu and Addu atolls. Mr. Yameen’s perceived China tilt during that time also made New Delhi apprehensive.
Following President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s election in September 2018, his Government declared an “India first” foreign policy, resetting ties emphatically . In an open acknowledgement his Government’s India-centric foreign policy, Mr. Solih told The Hindu in a January 2021 interview that the Maldives “makes no apology” for close ties with India.
Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed, a party colleague of Mr. Solih and an influential voice in the Maldives, has earlier said India is the “single most important country” for the Maldives, while accusing is political opponents of “xenophobia”.
Critics of the Government’s India relations, however, said it was Indian “military presence” that they were wary of. Speaking to The Hindu from Male, opposition parliamentarian and PPM vice-president Mohamed Saeed said: “We are not against India or the people of India. Our people are heavily into Bollywood, we love Indian cuisine. That is not the issue. There are reports of Indian military presence in the atolls and the Government is not clarifying this,” he said, adding: “We oppose military presence of any foreign country – be it India, China or whoever else.”
Observing that Mr. Yameen was only “giving leadership” to the “concerns” of citizens, Mr. Saeed slammed the Government over its Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) harbour development deal with India, signed in February 2021. “There is no transparency, and the government is reluctant to reveal the terms of the agreement in Parliament, despite having a majority in the House. The BJP leadership in India and the [ruling] MDP are messing up bilateral ties. We are not on the right course,” said Mr. Saeed, who was Minister of Economic Development in Mr. Yameen’s Government.
At the time of the signing of the UTF pact in February this year, Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Didi termed the project — for which Male made multiple requests even during Mr. Yameen’s term — “vital” to the “effective functioning” of the Maldivian Coast Guard. Ms. Didi has said that the relationship between the Maldives and India today is “stronger than ever”.