Relevance: GS Paper II (International Relations)
Why has this issue cropped up?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence at Maldives President Ibrahim Solih’s swearing-in reflected the goodwill that seems to have been rekindled between Male and New Delhi.
- The government of Solih’s predecessor, Abdulla Yameen, had turned increasingly dictatorial.
- Yameen’s rule saw concerted efforts to trample the institutions of the state as well as a clamping down on the Opposition and voices of dissent.
- Yameen’s years also saw the deepening alignment between the Maldives and China.
Maldives and China
- The Maldives’ geopolitical location on the major east-west sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean raised its strategic value for Beijing.
- China began to devote considerable political and economic resources to drawing the Maldives into its orbit. This involved directed tourist flows, investment in strategic infrastructure and political support for Yameen.
Opportunity for India
- As he fended off India’s pressure for democracy, Yameen found Beijing to be a valuable ally. Now, with Solih at the helm, it is an opportune moment for Male to renew its ties with India.
- Solih sought India’s assistance to develop his country’s infrastructure and the two leaders discussed the modalities of deepening economic cooperation.
- On the other hand, Nasheed has suggested that the new government will pull out of the Free Trade Agreement with China.
Way forward for India
- While India has reasons to view the turn of events in the Maldives with satisfaction, it would be unwise to assume that the country has become “pro-India” and return to the old ways of doing business in Male.
- New Delhi needs to realise that its smaller neighbours are not willing to offer uncritical and unquestioning support for India. It must also recognise Beijing’s ability to win favours.
- India must learn to engage the Maldives with sensitivity and devote sustained political attention and economic resources to transform the bilateral relationship into a genuine Indian Ocean partnership.