New Delhi: Rejecting the ‘India Out’ campaign going on in the Maldives, New Delhi said Tuesday that the two countries have vowed to further strengthen their defence and security ties with a major focus on maritime security during a meeting between Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The visit comes a year before the presidential election in the Maldives, in which Solih is expected to run for the post again.
Solih, who arrived in India Monday for a four-day visit, became the first head of state to meet the newly elected President Droupadi Murmu. He vowed to follow an ‘India First’ policy even as his country continues to reel under Chinese debt due to the loans obtained from Beijing by the previous Maldivian government.
“The prime minister and I discussed the issue of terrorism. We both reiterated our firm commitment to the work against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and strengthen cooperation to enhance maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean region,” Solih told the media after his bilateral meeting with Modi.
Solih also thanked the Indian government for the announcement made to provide a second Landing Assault Craft and a replacement ship for the CGS Huravee — an indigenously built Trinkat-class patrol vessel that the Navy gave to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) — as well as the donation of 24 utility vehicles.
The CGS Huravee was given to the MNDF by the Indian Navy in 2006 for coastal surveillance and combating transnational crimes, and was last repaired in 2021. But this will now be replaced by a new boat that India will soon gift to the island country.
Solih also said: “Since my government assumed office, it has been fully committed to giving new heights to the relations between our two countries. Our relationship with India will always be of the highest priority.”
Modi emphasised that the threat of transnational crime, terrorism, and drug trafficking in the Indian Ocean is critical.
“Therefore, close contact and coordination between India and the Maldives in the field of defence and security are vital for the peace and stability of the entire region. We have increased our cooperation against all these common challenges. It also includes capacity building and training support for Maldivian security officials,” Modi said.
He further said that India will provide 24 vehicles and one naval boat for the Maldives Security Force, and will also be building police facilities in 61 islands of the Maldives.
Modi added: “The India-Maldives partnership is not only working in the interest of the citizens of both the countries but is also becoming a source of peace, stability, and prosperity for the region”.
‘India Out’ slogans ‘not’ the view of Maldivians
Addressing the media on the outcome of the bilateral meeting between President Solih and PM Modi, India’s High Commissioner to the Maldives Munu Mahawar said at a media conference that the island nation had a “genuine desire” to take bilateral ties to the next level.
“President Solih has reaffirmed the ‘India First’ policy of Maldives. PM (Modi) has reaffirmed that the Maldives occupies a very special place in our ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. President Solih has also assured [India] that there is a strong desire in the Maldives to strengthen its relationship with India,” the envoy said.
He added: “The people of Maldives appreciate the partnership. They recognise how India has always stood by the Maldives in their hours of need. There is a genuine desire to further strengthen our relationship. These (anti-India) campaigns that are being run are based on misinformation, false propaganda, and they do not reflect the views of the people of Maldives”.
The ‘India Out’ campaign has been gaining ground in the Maldives since 2020. The Maldivian government ordered an investigation into it in March this year, and issued a decree banning the campaign in April.
Spearheaded by former president Abdulla Yameen, the campaign accuses the Maldivian government of allowing an Indian military presence in the island nation and being a puppet of New Delhi — a charge that Malé has repeatedly denied.
On the subject of growing infighting within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Mahawar hinted that it was indeed discussed. “All issues were discussed”, Mahawar told the press, adding that the visit was focussed on “bilateral and international issues”.
Solih and his party member Mohammed Nasheed — a former president of the country — have been engaged in a public spat for months now. Nasheed has opposed Solih’s running for the post of president for the second time in 2023.
Diplomatic sources told ThePrint that while India believes this matter is internal to the Maldives, an open spat between the two senior leaders of the ruling MDP does not augur well for New Delhi.
Sources said that both sides also discussed issues concerning Chinese debt in the Maldives that Nasheed has been taking up with India in an effort to seek help in repaying those debts.
During his last visit to India, Nasheed had said that more than 70 per cent of Maldives’ debt is owned by China, giving Beijing “unprecedented economic and political power over the Maldives”.
India and the Maldives Tuesday jointly announced the Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP) and the construction of 4,000 social housing units “as an indication of the strong partnership,” a readout by the Maldivian President’s Office said Tuesday.
India also approved a $119 million buyer’s credit funding from the Exim Bank for the construction of another 2,000 social housing units in the Greater Malé region.
The GMCP, which is 6.74 km in length and will connect Malé to Villingli, Gulhifahlu, and Thilahfushi, is the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken in the Maldives and one of India’s largest projects in the neighbourhood.
India has also allowed the duty-free importation of tuna from the Maldives under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) framework.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)