A Look at the Relations of India and Maldives

India and Maldives are two Asian countries sharing maritime border with each other. Both countries share certain elements of religion, language, food, climate as well as culture. Having a prolonged bileteral relationship filled with peace and development, both the countries enjoy a great connection of mutual understanding followed by military agreements. Indians are the second-largest expatriates in Maldives where teachers make upto 25% and 31% of doctors in Maldives are Indians. Despite such positivity, we see certain disagreements and clashes between the two countries, especially since 2021. In this article, we will study about India-Maldives Relations in brief.

Similarities between India and Maldives

  1. Officially, Islam is the only religion followed in Maldives making Muslims about 100% of the Maldivian population. While, Islam is the second-largest religion in India.
  2. Dhivehi is the only official language of Maldives which is also spoken in Minicoy island of India.
  3. Indian cuisine is a lot diverse but certain part of it is very similar which includes the consumption and use of coconut, rice, flatbreads, seafood, jaggery, flatbreads etc.
  4. Teritorries of both nations are located in the Indian Ocean.
  5. Both countries were former British colonies being parts of the British Empire where India was a part of ‘British India’ and Maldives named ‘Maldive Islands Protectorate’.
  6. Both countries are members of SAARC, IORA, ADB, WTO, UN, Commonwealth and so on.
  7. Indian-origin people in Maldives account the highest share in the population of Maldivians.

History of India-Maldives Relations

In 1947, ‘Republic of India’ was formed, gaining independence from British rule. The Indian freedom struggle surely ignited new hopes and motivation for Maldivian freedom struggle.

Between 1954-1957, there have been visit of Indian diplomats and ministers extensively to Maldives. The first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru visited Maldives twice to strengthen diplomatic relations and promote independence.

In 1956, a plebiscite was conducted in Minicoy teritorry of India (the only Dhivehi-speaking teritorry in the world outside Maldives) where they were given option to either join India or Pakistan or some . The

Between 1959-1963, during the freedom struggle, India provided diplomatic and military support to Maldives to gain its independence and control over the teritorries.

In 1965, ‘Republic of Maldives’ was formed, gaining full independence from British rule. India was one of the first countries to recognise Maldives’ sovereignty.

Since 1974, Indian Government and Indian companies (like Taj Hotels, State Bank of India, Tata Group, Mahindra Group, Larsen & Toubro and so on) has been contributing in the Maldivian economy and development through their projects, investments, loans, aids and so on.

In March 1979, India announced visa exemption for Maldivian citizens for India.

In 1984, Maldives officially announced visa exemption for Indian citizens for Maldives allowing stay upto 90 days.

In 1986, former Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, visited Maldives to strengthen diplomatic ties.

During the visit, Indian Government agreed to built the Maldive’s first and largest medical complex. It was opened later in 1995 with the name ‘Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH)’. It is the largest hospital till date (in 2024).

In 1988, Maldives was suffering from a political and identity crisis because Maldivian Liberation Front (MLF), led by Abdullah Luthufi, tried to overthrow the Maldivian President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his cabinet incharge of Government of Maldives who were armed by the rebels of Tamil Eelam. To save Maldives, Indian Army intervened and conducted the military operation called ‘Operation Cactus’ to save Maldives from the military coup by MLF. This operation was conducted on a special request by the Maldivian President himself and it came out to be successful operation, thanks to India.

Since then, Indian military has been deployed in Maldives to provide security to the nation, perform joint-operations and train the Maldivian Army.

In 1996, Maldives Institute of Technical Education (MITE) was set up as a grant-in-aid project of Government of India in 1996. Having a capacity to train at least 200 students a year in various technical/vocational disciplines

In 2004, India was the first country to rush aid and relief to Maldives amid the destruction caused by 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

Between 2006 to 2008, Maldives supported the Indian Diplomat, Kamalesh Sharma as the Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations.

In December 2008, during President Nasheed’s trip to India, the Indian government offered the Maldives a Standby Credit Facility amounting to US$100 million.

In 2009, Maldivian Government sought help from India for national security to counter terrorism, pirates and illegal immigrants. Since then, India has been protecting Maldivian sovereignty by guarding the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), oceans and banks of Maldives.

In November 2011, furthermore, a subsequent Standby Credit Facility of US$100 million was provided to the Maldivian government when the Honorable Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, visited the Maldives.

Between 2011 and 2013, Maldives suffered from political crisis that eventually led to resignation of the President of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed (part of MDP) in 2012 where the oppositions blamed him and his party to be uneffective in democratic practices. These political crisis happened amid the First Arab Spring.

In 2013, the political party, Progressive Party of Maldives, came into power making Maumoon Abdul Gayoom as the President. This political party came out to be less supportive towards India and preferred China at times even though the throne of Gayoom is credited to India.

This actually came out to be a blunder for Maldives since it marked the beginning of the country to fall for the Chinese debt trap strategy. Maldives-China relations were strengthened where Maldives passed a couple of Chinese projects in Maldives and became a part of the China’s global development strategy, ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ which aims to link China with Asia and Europe for business and the Chinese dominance. It is reported that Maldives borrowed a loan of $1.1 billion (USD) from China which is leading to a predicted debt trap.

Between 2010 to 2015, Indian Army donated arms and defence equipment to Maldives including 2 units of advanced utility helicopters, HAL Dhruv, which can be used defence, patrolling/search operations, airlifting and curbing disasters.

In 2016, Maldivian Government under PPM demanded the return of the two helicopters back to India to show disinterest.

In 2018, MDP came into power and it reinitiated the pro-India policies which includes the extension of the keeping the helicopters.

In January 2019, People’s Democratic Party (Maldives) is founded and it starts campaigning for the 2023 Presidential Elections.

In June 2019, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi also visited the country to brief at the Maldivian Parliament.

Between 2020 to 2022, India became the largest doner for aids to fight Coronavirus in Maldives.

Further, India supported Maldivian representation in UN Security Council.

Between 2021 to 2023, People’s Democratic Party (Maldives) aggressively starts protesting against the ties of Maldives with India as their propaganda to win the Presidential Elections of 2023.

Mohamed Muizzu along with the members and supporters of People’s Democratic Party (Maldives), they organised multiple protests, debates and promotions with the main campaign motto of “India Out”. Their built-up arguement is that India’s prolonged interference has become a threat to Maldivian sovereignty.

In 2023, People’s Democratic Party wins the Maldivian Presidential Elections of 2023 making Mohamed Muizzu the current (9th) Maldivian President. His cabinet includes Hussain Mohamed Latheef as the Vice-President, Moosa Zameer as the Foreign Minister and so on.

Since the change of the political party in power in 2023, from MDP to PDP, the India-Maldives relations have started going downhill with no sign of improvement or hope.

In January 2024, Maldivian President asked India to withdrew the presence of Indian military forces from Maldives by March.

Amid this, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi uploaded pictures of Lakshwadeep (an Indian teritorry) which is in the same geography as Maldives, providing similar value to tourists in terms of coral reefs, beaches, resorts, watersports and so on.

In response to this post, a bunch of Maldivians started to shamelessly mock the Indian Prime Minister even though he didn’t even mention anything related to Maldives. It is astonishing to learn that derogatory remarks are not just from the random citizens, but they are coming even from the Maldivian politicians. For example:

  • The Maldivian Deputy Minister of Youth Development, Mariyam Shiuna wrote “What a clown. The puppet of Israel Mr Narendra diver with life jacket.” which was later deleted since it was widely criticised by the people including Indians, Maldivians and the world.
  • Zahid Rameez, who is a member of Progressive Party of Maldives. He stereotypes all Indians to be “unclean”, “smelly” and “poor at providing hospitality services”.
  • The Maldivian Deputy Minister of Youth Empowerment, Abdulla Mahzoom Majid shared a false post claiming that defecating openly in public spaces is a part of India.
  • Another Maldivian Deputy Minister of Youth Empowerment, Maldsha Shareef passed numerous hate speech against India and the Indian Prime Minister. Her hate speech included stereotypes of Indians drinking cow urine, mocking Former Maldivian President to marry the Indian Prime Minister and false news of the Indian Prime Minister being declared a terrorist. Here are those:

Amid this, all these three government officials were suspended by the Maldivian Government.

By the end of January 2024 itself, Member of the Maldivian Parliament disrupted the proceedings with a violent clash due to a disagreement between ruling and the opposition party for approving four new cabinet ministers.

In February 2024, India-Maldives diplomats agree on the removal of the presence of Indian military forces by May 2024.


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