India and Maldives have shared the most cordial ties since the island nation gained its independence in 1966. New Delhi and Male have shared a warm relationship of close diplomatic, strategic, economic and Defense cooperation. This relationship has been in the face of a storm for some time now.
A vicious internet and social media-fuelled movement called the “India Out” campaign has been raging through the archipelagic nation. The movement is being led by the former President of Maldives Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s party. It has united the opposition parties against India and the country’s pro-India government headed by Ibrahim Solih.
The movement has been worrying government heads in both New Delhi and Male. Interestingly, the ruling governments of both nations still remain cordial with one another. Consequently, relations between both countries are balanced on a razor-thin edge between stability and instability.
As recently as June 2021, the “India Out” rhetoric turned so vicious that India’s then-ambassador Sanjay Sudhir had to appeal for extra protection for the Indian diplomatic staff. In a letter dated June 24, 2021, he expressed concerns regarding “vicious and increasingly personal” threats aimed at India and its diplomats.
The Maldives Foreign Ministry had to then issue a statement in July, urging media to stop propagating misinformation that might harm diplomats’ reputations or put them in any danger. The Solih government has also increased the security of Indian diplomatic staff since then.
Origin Of “India Out” Movement
The origin of the anti-India sentiment that has been fuelling this movement is nearly a decade old. It dates back to 2013 when Abdulla Yameen was the president of the Maldives. Yameen was a pro-China leader. The relations between India and Male were at their lowest during his tenure.
Yameen turned viciously against India after his conviction in the money-laundering case that was overturned in 2021. Turning India into an enemy figure seems to be his political plank this time. Unfortunately, his rhetoric seems to be catching on in many regions now.
What Does “India Out” Campaign Demand?
Contrary to what it sounds like, the “India Out” campaign isn’t aimed at driving out the Indian diaspora settled in the island nation. It is targeted at the Indian military presence there.
The opposition leaders driving this movement have also used other ostensible issues such as India’s treatment of the minorities in recent times, and its allegedly inefficient and undemocratic government. The Maldives is a Sunni-Muslim majority nation.
But, the most obvious complaint is the apparent increase in Indian military presence. The case of the 2 helicopters and one Dornier aircraft gifted by India to the Maldives for relief purposes is a case in point. The demand for the return of the choppers and the aircraft began as early as 2018. Yameen had asked India to take back its “gifts” since Maldivian pilots were not allowed to operate them.
Yameen continues to suggest that the Ibrahim Solih government, which came to power in 2018, is selling out the country’s autonomy to India and jeopardising its interests by pursuing diplomatic, economic and defence ties with India.
Implications For Bilateral Relations
The rallies and online campaigns are unlikely to have an impact on the India-Maldives relationship as long as Ibrahim Solih remains in power. However, if Solih loses to the PPM-PNC alliance(that is backing this movement), then the relationship could be in serious trouble.
Given that Maldives is a strategically important nation in the Indian Ocean, and with the lurking presence of the Chinese in the same region, losing good diplomatic and maritime relations with the Maldives could spell disaster for India.
India has wonderful relations with the people and has considerable investments there in the fields of healthcare and education. Indians also form a majority of the tourists that visit this nation, whose primary industry remains tourism.
But the Chinese investments are difficult to match. China’s single-minded pursuit of maritime and economic control of the region has been putting most of India’s ties with nations in the subcontinental and Indian Ocean regions on shaky grounds. Losing a long-time all-weather ally might be the last thing India needs.