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Maldives’s ‘India out’ Plan

By Amigos IAS

Why is it in the news?

  • Mohamed Muizzu, the President of Maldives, has adopted an ‘India-out’ policy, choosing Turkey for his first foreign destination.
  • This signals a significant shift in the foreign policy of Maldives.

Steps taken by Maldives after Muizzu came into Power

  • Muizzu selected Turkey for his first official visit after assuming the presidency, breaking from the tradition of choosing India.
  • Maldives abstained from participating in the NSA-level Colombo Security Conclave, where it is a member-state along with India, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius.
  • Muizzu expressed the intention to change the ‘India First’ policy adopted by his predecessor Solih and remove Indian military personnel from the island nation.
  • The Maldives decided not to renew the hydrography cooperation agreement with India, signed in 2019, allowing India to conduct hydrographic surveys in its territorial waters. The agreement expires on June 7, 2024.

India’s Reaction

  • India expressed a desire to maintain strong engagement with the Maldives and funded significant connectivity projects.
  • Speculation arose in India about China developing a naval base in the Maldives, particularly after China’s plans for an ocean observatory in Makunudhoo Atoll in 2018.

 

Importance of India and Maldives

  • The Maldives’ proximity to India, at 70 nautical miles from Minicoy in Lakshadweep and 300 nautical miles from the mainland’s western coast, makes it strategically important.
  • India’s geographic proximity to the Maldives is expected to remain crucial despite shifts in the Maldives’ foreign policy.

Political Relations:

  • India was among the first to recognize Maldives after its independence in 1965, with shared ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious, and commercial links.
  • Both nations are founding members of SAARC and have supported each other in multilateral areas.

Strategic Relationship:

  • The Maldives, comprising 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean, lies near key shipping lanes crucial for uninterrupted energy supplies to China, Japan, and India.
  • It holds a special place in India’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy.’

Defence:

  • A technical agreement on sharing ‘White Shipping Information’ was signed between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force.
  • ‘Ekuverin’ is a joint military exercise between India and Maldives.

Trade and Economy:

  • India and Maldives signed a trade agreement in 1981 for the export of essential commodities.
  • India provides essential food items and construction materials to the Maldives on favourable terms, resulting in a positive balance of trade.

Development Assistance Programme:

  • India has played a crucial role in various areas, such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, and disaster relief, including operations like ‘Operation Cactus.’

 

Concerns in India-Maldives Relations

  • Changes in government and constitutional crises have led to political instability.
  • Concerns about large Chinese infrastructure projects and loans.
  • Growing entanglement of smaller states in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and other Chinese projects.
  • Maldives facing an economic crisis, leading to project delays and debt issues.
  • Differences in the approach to counterterrorism, with India urging firm action against rising extremism.

 

Measures to be taken

  • India needs increased engagement in the domestic politics of the Maldives.
  • Need to collaborate with Gulf partners to prevent potential destabilization by Turkey.
  • Active participation in Turkey’s neighbourhood to strengthen India’s position in the geopolitical landscape.
  • Discussing ways to bolster India-Maldives relations, emphasizing economic cooperation, development, and people-to-people ties.

 

Turkey’s relationship with the Maldives

·       Turkey has tried to raise its profile in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

·       It has intervened on matters of crucial interest to India, such as Kashmir by pushing a pan-Islamic foreign policy.

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