Despite media speculations, the bilateral ties between India and Maldives seem to be off to a good start under the new Muizzu administration
Bilateral relations seem to be set for a good start under President Mohamed Muizzu following his
The Muizzu-Modi meeting should put at rest speculative negativism in the public domain on bilateral relations after the former had insisted on the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from Maldives. Addressing newsmen on his return from a two-nation visit to Türkiyé and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Muizzu said that Modi reacted favourably to his suggestion for New Delhi to take back 77 military personnel including two technicians, who were operating three aerial platforms that were gifted for emergency evacuations and aerial surveillance of the nation’s ocean territory for drug-smuggling and other criminal activities.
During Muizzu's previous interactions on this subject earlier when meeting Earth Sciences Minister Kiren Rijiju, who represented India at his swearing-in last month, and also with High Commissioner Munu Mahawar after winning the presidential polls on 30 September, there was no mention of New Delhi having to take back the aerial platforms—two helicopters and one Dornier fixed-wing aircraft. This was/is unlike the original demand of his estranged political mentor and jailed former President Abdulla Yameen.
While in power, ahead of the 2018 presidential polls that he lost, Yameen had begun by asking India to call back the pilots and technicians along with the platforms. When alternating between the ‘India Out/India Military Out’ calls from the Opposition against President Ibrahim Solih’s government (2018-23), he seldom demanded the withdrawal of the flying-machines.
For his part, Muizzu, throughout his presidential poll campaign left out the three platforms but insisted on the withdrawal of troops, if only to retain the committed 40-percent conservative constituency that he hoped to inherit from Yameen.
In light of bilateral discussions involving Muizzu, there are reports about India considering the replacement of military pilots and technicians with civilians as the new President has repeatedly acknowledged the usefulness of the platforms and appreciated the same.
In light of bilateral discussions involving Muizzu, there are reports about India considering the replacement of military pilots and technicians with civilians as the new President has repeatedly acknowledged the usefulness of the platforms and appreciated the same. However, some media reports have pointed to the
Muizzualso told newsmen that Foreign MinisterMoosaZameer was present at his talks with PM Modi. A week or more before the Dubai meeting, High Commissioner Mahawar had met Minister Zameer and later said in a social media post that they had
If the order of Muizzu’s meeting with foreign envoys after his election carried any significance, it needs to be noted that the Indian High Commissioner came after the Chinese envoy. But the latter came Caron Röhsler, whose choice for the first meeting of the new President was not expected in the normal course. The message was aimed at sending out clear signals of continued moderation in Maldives relations with China as used to be the case under predecessor Solih and unlike under President Yameen. However, given the perceived and not-so-perceived strains in bilateral relations with India on the question of New Delhi withdrawing military personnel, the choice of the British envoy for the President-elect’s first meeting was a tactful compromise.
As coincidence would have it, Muizzu’s return home was followed by his Vice-President
Bilateral development cooperation was also the theme song of Muizzu’s meeting with other foreign leaders, , Charles III, and , both at Dubai, and alsoTürkiyéat Ankara, his first foreign destination. At Ankara, the two nations signed a , the first such overseas deal signed by the new government in Malé.
Muizzu also , their second one after the one in Malé. Wickremesinghe, incidentally, was the only foreign Head of State and Government to participate in Muizzu’s swearing-in, and the one known to have invited his counterpart to visit Sri Lanka. However, Muizzu’s choice of Türkiyé for his maiden overseas visit owed to his relative familiarity with the nation and leadership after Ankara had hosted him when he was the Malé City Mayor. That should also partially set at rest media speculation as to why he chose not to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and make India his first overseas destination. It is also unknown if India had already invited President Muizzu to visit the country.
After the Muizzu government’s earlier declaration that they were not looking at fast-tracking the US$ 500-million, India-funded Thilamale sea bridge, the nation’s single largest project (apart from multiple high-impact projects in the infrastructure and social sectors), bilateral relations are set for a smooth sail, or so it looks like. Given the dire economic situation facing the country in the coming months, these projects and also such other foreign-funded schemes, including China’s, are expected to be the backbone of the Muizzu government’s capital expenditure in the formative years. It is a continuation of the economic/investment policy of the predecessor Solih government as against the one-sided China-centric policies and programmes of the Yameen leadership before it (2013-18).
However, possibilities of India working with Maldives on defence cooperation through the multi-nation Indian Ocean
In this background, India need to adopt a cautious approach to Maldives under Muizzu, who represents the ‘post-democracy’ generation in the country.
In this background, India need to adopt a cautious approach to Maldives under Muizzu, who represents the ‘post-democracy’ generation in the country. This would be especially so in the new Maldives’ approach to China, especially after Muizzu has repeatedly reiterated his resolve for his nation not to get involved in ‘big power competition’ between the other two, nor allow military personnel from any country to be present on Maldivian soil for a significant length of time. For now, it should also silence critics in India and the West who have been prefixing Muizzu’s name with the adjective, ‘China-friendly’.
N. Sathiya Moorthy is a Chennai-based Policy Analyst & Political Commentator.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.