Thirty-four years ago this week, the Indian government conducted an operation in a foreign land, for which, that country is still indebted to India. Maldives, the island country in the Indian Ocean, faced an unprecedented threat on November 1988 from Sri Lankan Tamil forces – People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). Backed by Maldivian businessman Abdulla Luthufi, PLOTE mounted a coup in the Maldives in November 1988. On the nights of November 2 and 3 in 1998, around 200 to 300 armed mercenaries landed in the country’s capital and captured key installations.
The mercenaries quickly gained control of the capital, including major government buildings, airport, ports, TV stations, and radio stations. The then Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was able to escape from the capture of PLOTE mercenaries, called for help from various countries including India. The then Indian government, under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi, responded quickly and sent its paratroopers to fight mercenaries under Operation Cactus.
Within hours, the Indian paratroopers took control, killed, and captured many mercenaries. The coup attempt was trounced and countries around the world including the United States applauded the Indian government.
Maldives still feels indebted to India:
The government of the Islamic Republic of Maldives still feels indebted to India and it is probably the only Islamic country in the world that unconditionally supports the Indian cause in all international forums.
For the last few decades, India has enjoyed great relations with the Maldives, except for a short period of Abdulla Yameen’s government, which was pro-China and pro-Pakistan. A Minister in the Abdulla Yameen government had even made an objectionable remark about Kashmir, but Indo-Maldivian ties have really come a long way now, as Malé stands firmly with India over the Kashmir issue.
The Indian government’s help to the Maldives in trouncing the coup by Sri Lankan Tamils is regarded as one of the most successful attempts of foreign intervention. Thanks to Operation Cactus, India has enjoyed decades-long good relations with the island nation. Since then, the Indian government has helped the Maldives during various crises with the most recent being the supply of medicines and vaccines during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Contemporary relations between India and Maldives:
The pandemic-hit island nation would have no chance to make the repayment of Chinese debt, given that the tourism-friendly country is witnessing the devastation of its tourism and construction sectors. And this is where India has come in to bail out the Maldives and rescue it from the paper-dragon’s tentacles.
In fact, last year also, India had announced that it would provide half a billion-dollar funding to the island nation for several Infrastructure projects that will change the face of the archipelago. The 500 million dollars financial package consists of a grant of 100 million dollars, and a new Line of Credit (LOC) of $ 400 million.
So, we are getting two major takeaways here – one, India is going to extend financial assistance and soft loans to Maldives, and two, New Delhi remains committed to bolstering tourism in the Maldives through a ferry service that should come as some sort of a relief for the archipelago-nation.
Prime Minister Modi and the Maldives President Solih have been engaging frequently ever since Solih stormed to power in the archipelago-nation. When hit by the Wuhan virus pandemic, the Maldives expected India to rescue it out of the Chinese debt trap and it seems India has delivered when it mattered the most.
Given the importance of Maldives in maintaining India’s dominance over the Indian Ocean – the most important trade route in the world, the Indian government must maintain close relations with the island country. The gains of Operation Cactus would fuel India-Maldives relations for decades.