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  India   All India  09 Jan 2024  India, Maldives summon envoys amid row over ministers' remarks on PM Modi

India, Maldives summon envoys amid row over ministers' remarks on PM Modi

THE ASIAN AGE. | SRIDHAR KUMARASWAMI
Published : Jan 9, 2024, 2:10 am IST
Updated : Jan 9, 2024, 2:10 am IST

Clearly all is not well between India and its tiny south-western maritime neighbour

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a meeting with President of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu during the COP28, in UAE. (File Image?PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a meeting with President of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu during the COP28, in UAE. (File Image?PTI)

New Delhi: As Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, widely seen as an anti-India and pro-China leader, left for Beijing on an official visit, the diplomatic row between his country and India escalated on Monday, with India summoning Maldivian high commissioner Ibrahim Shaheeb in New Delhi and conveying its serious concern over the developments that was followed, according to Maldives media reports, by Male summoning Indian high commissioner Munu Mahawar in an alleged tit-for-tat response.

However, the Indian high commission in Male issued a statement that Mr Mahawar had a “pre-arranged meeting” with the Maldivian foreign ministry’s ambassador at large  Ali Naseer Mohamed “to discuss bilateral issues”.

But clearly all is not well between India and its tiny south-western maritime neighbour, which had earlier on Sunday suspended three deputy ministers for making derogatory and slanderous remarks targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he visited the Lakshadweep islands situated not far from the Maldives. But the damage was already done by the deputy ministerial trio -- Ms Mariyam Shiuna, Ms Malsha Shareef and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid -- who all worked for the ministry of youth empowerment, information and arts, with Ms Shiuna allegedly using words like “clown” and “Israeli puppet” in a shrill rant after another Maldivian MP, Zahid Rameez, had made racist and xenophobic comments targeting Indians.

The row also continues to take the social media by storm, with one travel portal also reportedly refusing bookings for the Maldives and vowing to promote Lakshadweep as a better alternative instead.

Another travel portal reportedly claimed there had been a huge 3,400 per cent increase in online searches that reflect growing interest among Indian tourists for the Lakshadweep islands following Mr Modi’s visit there and the scandalous remarks made by the Maldivian politicians.

The highest number of foreign tourists visiting the Maldives are from India, and judging by a reported spate of cancellations by Indian tourists to the archipelago nation after the controversy, it remains to be seen how much the tourism-dependent Maldivian economy is affected. It may be recalled India had financially bailed out the Maldivian economy during the Covid-19 pandemic when the global tourism industry had virtually ground to a halt. In another development, the Israeli embassy in New Delhi also put out a post praising the “majestic underwater beauty and enchanting allure” of India’s Lakshadweep islands and declared that it is ready to commence work on a desalination project there at New Delhi’s earlier request.

Mr Muizzu -- who won the presidential polls in his country last year by defeating his pro-India predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in a keenly-fought election -- had pledged to evict a reportedly small number of Indian troops operating two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft  for medical evacuations and contingency operations in the tiny nation. He had also visited Turkey first after taking over as President instead of India, which was seen earlier as a convention for new Maldivian Presidents. This was seen by some observers as a stern message to New Delhi. But the ongoing visit to China of President Muizzu is the strongest message to New Delhi that the Maldives under him no longer follows an India First policy. Clearly, Beijing now has the upper hand in the archipelago nation.

Nevertheless, even the new Maldivian government is under enormous pressure and clearly in damage control mode. It put out a statement earlier Sunday, saying: “The Maldives government is aware of derogatory remarks on social media platforms against foreign leaders and high-ranking individuals. These opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the Government of the Maldives. The government believes that the freedom of expression should be exercised in a democratic and responsible manner, and in ways that do not spread hatred, negativity, and hinder close relationships between the Maldives and its international partners… The relevant authorities of the government will not hesitate to take action against those who make such derogatory remarks.”

In fact, President Muizzu also met Mr Modi on the sidelines  of the COP28 summit in Dubai last month, after which the Maldivian President had claimed India has agreed to remove its soldiers from the tiny archipelago nation. Following that, Indian government sources had said “discussions  are on” on how to keep Indian humanitarian assistance and disaster relief assistance to the Maldives “operational” using “Indian platforms”, an obvious reference to the two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft reportedly operated by Indian armed forces personnel there till now. Sources had acknowledged that the issue had been “briefly discussed” at the meeting between the two leaders, but had added that the “core group that both sides have agreed to set up will look at details of how to take this forward”.

Tags: pro-china, pm modi, maldives president mohamed muizzu
Location: India, Delhi