Why New Delhi cold shouldered Maldives plan for Prez Muizzu’s India visit | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Why New Delhi cold shouldered Maldives plan for Prez Muizzu’s India visit

Jan 09, 2024 10:23 PM IST

Ties between India and the Maldives took a further hit last week after several leaders close to the government in Male made derogatory remarks about India

NEW DELHI: The Maldives government proposed a visit to India by President Mohamed Muizzu after he assumed office last year but the trip couldn’t go ahead for a variety of factors, including strained bilateral relations, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

President Muizzu reiterated his demand for the withdrawal of some 77 Indian military personnel at his meeting with Union minister Kiren Rijiju, who represented the Indian government at his inauguration (AFP FILE PHOTO)
President Muizzu reiterated his demand for the withdrawal of some 77 Indian military personnel at his meeting with Union minister Kiren Rijiju, who represented the Indian government at his inauguration (AFP FILE PHOTO)

Ties between India and the Maldives, earlier one of the main beneficiaries of New Delhi’s “Neighbourhood First” policy, took a further hit last week after several leaders close to the government in Male made derogatory remarks about India and its leadership last week. Muizzu’s government suspended three deputy ministers over the comments.

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The people said on condition of anonymity that the Maldives government had broached the proposal for a presidential visit shortly after Muizzu assumed office last November. However, the atmosphere at the time had already been vitiated by the anti-India campaign of Muizzu’s party during the presidential election and his demand for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel deployed in the Maldives to operate two helicopters and an aircraft, the people said.

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“Such visits can’t be scheduled so quickly when bilateral relations are strained,” one of the people cited above said. “Following the president’s visit to China, a trip to India looks even more unlikely.”

Muizzu reiterated his demand for the withdrawal of some 77 Indian military personnel at his meeting with Union minister Kiren Rijiju, who represented the Indian government at his inauguration. Subsequently, Muizzu travelled to Turkiye and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), breaking with the convention of Maldivian presidents making their first foreign trip to India.

Bilateral ties plunged to a fresh low last week 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 visit to the islands.

The Maldives government distanced itself from the derogatory remarks and suspended Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid as deputy ministers in the ministry of youth empowerment. India summoned the Maldivian envoy in New Delhi to the external affairs ministry on Monday to convey its strong concerns over the derogatory comments.

Amid reports of Indian tourists cancelling holiday plans in the Maldives, Muizzu, who is on a visit to China, on Tuesday backed efforts for China to regain its position as the number one source of foreign tourists in the Indian Ocean archipelago. Two state-owned enterprises of China and the Maldives signed an agreement to develop a $50-million integrated tourism zone at Hulhumale island.

Outlining his country’s plans to develop the tourism sector at the Invest Maldives Forum in Fuzhou, Muizzu said: “China was our number one market pre-Covid, and it is my request that we intensify efforts for China to regain this position.”

Describing China as one of the closest allies and development partners of the Maldives, Muizzu said his government is “committed to ensure quick implementation” of the free trade agreement (FTA) signed with China in 2017.

According to figures from the Maldives’ tourism ministry, India was the top source of foreign tourists in 2022 and 2023. A total of 240,000 Indians visited the Maldives in 2022, followed by 198,000 Russians and 177,000 British nationals. In 2023, a total of 209,198 Indians visited the archipelago, followed by 209,146 Russians, and 187,118 Chinese nationals.

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