Strategic comfort with the Maldives
- The visit of Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to the Maldives is significant for taking forward bilateral relations.
Significance of the visit
- Under Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih, bilateral cooperation, especially on the economic front, has become a ‘model’ that New Delhi can adopt to make Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ a sustained success.
- Given ex-President Yameen’s tilt towards China and bias against India when in power, India can take respite in the ‘strategic comfort’ of the ‘India First’ policy of the Solih government.
India- Maldives bilateral relations
- India and the Maldives have had bilateral relations for centuries.
- Technology has made connectivity easier for everyday contact and exchanges.
- Maldivian students attend educational institutions in India and patients fly here for superspeciality healthcare, aided by a liberal visa-free regime extended by India.
- Tourism being the mainstay of Maldivian economy, it serves as a major tourist destination for some Indians and a job destination for others.
- Given the geographical limitations imposed on the Maldives, India has exempted the nation from export curbs on essential commodities.
- Through the decades, India has rushed emergency assistance to the Maldives, whenever sought.
- In 1988, when armed mercenaries attempted a coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, India sent paratroopers and Navy vessels and restored the legitimate leadership under Operation Cactus.
- The 2004 tsunami and the drinking water crisis in Male a decade later were other occasions when India rushed assistance.
- At the peak of the continuing COVID-19 disruption, India rushed $250 million aid along with medical supplies to the Maldives,a new cargo ferry and also opened an air travel bubble, the first such in South Asia.
Challenges for India
- Ex-President Yameen’s camp has launched an ‘India Out’ campaign against New Delhi’s massive developmental funding for creating physical, social and community infrastructure.
- India should be concerned about the protests as well as the occasional rumblings within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
- Given this background and India’s increasing geostrategic concerns in the shared seas, taking forward the multifaceted cooperation to the next stage quickly could also be at the focus of Mr. Shringla’s visit.
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