India summons envoy, turns heat on Maldives | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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India summons envoy, turns heat on Maldives

By, New Delhi
Jan 09, 2024 04:28 AM IST

He was informed about India’s strong concerns over comments by certain Maldivian ministers made about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India on Monday summoned the Maldivian envoy to the external affairs ministry to express its strong concerns over derogatory comments made against the country and its top leadership by several leaders of the ruling party in the Indian Ocean archipelago, people familiar with the matter said.

Ibrahim Shaheeb, Maldives Envoy exits the MEA at South Block, in New Delhi on Monday. (ANI )
Ibrahim Shaheeb, Maldives Envoy exits the MEA at South Block, in New Delhi on Monday. (ANI )

The development came a day after the Maldives government suspended three deputy ministers over the derogatory comments posted on social media and distanced itself from the remarks, which it said didn’t reflect the views of the administration.

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The people said on condition of anonymity that Maldives high commissioner Ibrahim Shaheeb was summoned to the external affairs ministry on Monday morning and informed about India’s strong concerns over comments by certain Maldivian ministers made about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

These concerns were also conveyed to the Maldivian foreign ministry by the Indian mission in Male on Sunday.

Also Read | ‘India gave a befitting reply to Maldives’, says Lakshadweep administrator

In a related development, the Indian mission said high commissioner Munu Mahawar held a “pre-arranged meeting” on Monday with Ali Naseer Mohamed, ambassador at large in the Maldivian foreign ministry, to “discuss bilateral issues”.

Monday’s development marked a further downturn in India-Maldives relations following the coming to power of the government led by President Mohamed Muizzu, perceived to be pro-China.

Muizzu, who began a nearly weeklong visit to China on Sunday at the invitation of President Xi Jinping, has called on India to withdraw 77 Indian military personnel posted in the Maldives to operate two helicopters and an aircraft. Muizzu has also cast aside the “India First” policy of his predecessor, Ibrahim Solih, and said the Maldives is opposed to any presence of foreign military personnel.

Maldives and China are set to sign several agreements to enhance trade, development and socioeconomic cooperation during Muizzu’s visit. At a meeting with officials of a Chinese state-run firm, Muizzu underscored China’s significance as a “valued ally and an integral collaborator” and expressed the aspiration to take bilateral ties to new heights.

Also Read | Ex-foreign minister notes 'element of racism' in India-Maldives diplomatic row

The latest row erupted over the weekend after several Maldivian leaders, including the deputy ministers, reacted to posts on social media describing Lakshadweep as a tourist destination that rivals the Maldives following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the islands.

The Maldives government initially distanced itself from the derogatory remarks of these leaders and subsequently suspended Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid as deputy ministers in the ministry of youth empowerment, information and art.

The three deputy ministers had criticised Modi for his post on X following his visit to Lakshadweep, inferring that it was an attempt to project islands as an alternative tourist destination to the Maldives.

Zahid Rameez, a leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives that is part of the government, responded to social media posts on Lakshadweep by saying on X that the idea of the islands competing with the Maldives is “delusional”. Shiuna made a derogatory post on X that referred to the Indian premier as a “puppet of Israel”. She later deleted the post but screen grabs of it were widely shared on social media.

Their remarks were widely criticised in India by ministers and celebrities, who urged people on social media platforms to explore domestic tourist destinations such as the Lakshadweep islands. There were also posts on social media that said some Indians were cancelled trips to the Maldives because of the row.

The tourism industry contributes a major part of the GDP of the Maldives, with visitors from India accounting for the largest numbers among the overall figures for 2023. According to the tourism ministry of the Maldives, of the 1.8 million tourists who visited the country last year, Indians were at the top spot with 209,198 arrivals, followed by Russia (209,146) and China (187,118).

The controversy triggered a social media backlash, with the hashtag BoycottMaldives trending briefly during the day. The chief executive of EaseMyTrip said the flight and hotel booking website will suspend bookings for the island nation. “In solidarity with our nation, @EaseMyTrip has suspended all Maldives flight bookings,” Nishant Pitti, EaseMyTrip CEO, wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

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