India seems to be further strengthening its diplomatic achievements in the Maldives, even as PM Modi and Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih jointly inaugurated four projects through video conferencing this evening in the island country. This really shows how India is working on the diplomatic gains it has recently made in the archipelago nation. China had made significant gains in the island country not so long ago with a whopping $3.4 billion debt that the Maldives owed to Beijing, and also a pro-China leader in the form of former President, Abdulla Yameen at the helm of affairs in the Maldives.
However, in a major diplomatic advantage for India, the people of Maldives kicked out pro-China President, Abdulla Yameen, and elected the Maldivian opposition candidate-Ibrahim Mohamed Solih- as the President last year. The exit of Yameen from power brought the Maldives closer to India. India had played its part in ensuring that free and fair elections took place in the archipelago nation, and in late August last year, BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy had said that if there is evidence of vote-rigging in Maldivian elections by China-backed President then India should invade the Maldives. The Ministry of External Affairs had distanced itself from Swamy’s statement and clarified that whatever he has said it is in his personal capacity and India have no such plans.
However, after the shellacking of Chinese backed President in the recently concluded Maldives elections, Subramanian Swamy, in another tweet, claimed that in the run-up to the elections, Indian and US naval warships had closed in on the Maldives to pressurize the President Abdulla Yameen against any attempts of vote-rigging. The pressure tactic of PM Modi and US President Donald Trump seem to have worked well as the incumbent president tasted humiliating defeat.
The exit of the pro-Chinese Abdulla Yameen regime had instantly paved the way for better Indo-Maldives ties. In fact, Yameen’s successor, Mohamed Solih had made his intentions of forging closer ties with India last year itself. He had chosen India for his first foreign visit, showing that the two countries had started witnessing a positive turnaround last year itself. Moreover, Solih had shown his friendly attitude towards India by calling India the ‘closest friend’ of Male. He had said, “Maldives and India have been friends since time immemorial. India is our closest neighbor and our people have ties of friendship and cultural affinity and within those close links trade and commerce have flourished. India is not only our closest friend, it is also one of our largest trading partners.”
Modi government also made its intention of restoring closer ties with the Maldives pretty clear even as the Modi government expressed keenness in empowering the island nation and relieving it of its debt burden by serving a $1.4 billion line of credit announced in December 2018. India took this goodwill measure further in March 2019 when the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) chose to extend 800 million US Dollars credit to the island country.
Now, PM Modi and Maldivian President Solih are further strengthening bilateral ties, as the two countries have signed four major projects, viz. lighting Male with over 2500 LED lights on Wednesday. Moreover, 2,00,000 LED bulbs across Maldivian households. The three other projects are- the launch of RuPay card, gifting Fast Interceptor Craft and 3 Fish processing plants.
With this Maldives will become one of the select countries that accept RuPay, India’s version of Master Card and Visa.
Maldives is not only strategically located, but is also at the core of PM Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’. The fact that close relations with the Maldives are critical to India’s foreign policy is clear from the fact that after being sworn in as Prime Minister the second time, Narendra Modi’s first foreign visit was to the Maldives. The inauguration of four projects therefore comes as a shot in the arm for the Modi government, and a major setback for the Dragon which seems to have lost the plot and the kind of plot it enjoyed in the island country during the days of Abdul Yameen.