India was among the first few countries that gave legal recognition to the Maldives after its independence in 1965 and established diplomatic relations with it at Malé in 1972. Both the countries share linguistic, ethnic, cultural, religious and commercial links steeped in antiquity and enjoy cordial and multi-dimensional relations. Since then relations between the two countries have developed due to regular visits by the officials of the two countries. Interestingly almost all the Prime Ministers have made diplomatic visits to the island country. India attaches the highest importance to its relationship with the Maldives which is marked by trust, transparency, mutual understanding, and sensitivity and in furtherance of its Neighborhood First Policy or as it is politically called the Gujral Doctrine.

Indians are the second largest community in the Maldives with numbers touching to 22,000. These numbers consist of workers as well as professionals like doctors, teachers, accountants, managers, engineers, nurses and technicians etc. We have used Soft-Power as a tool of diplomacy while dealing with our neighbour countries and especially when it comes to south-Asian countries. This has helped us in developing the bond which has cultural connect. 

The last government of Maldives was not inclined towards India and as a result, later saw the departure of one of its company with whom the contract of building the airport was signed. Contrarily the previous government also tried to ensure that the relation between the two countries did not snap and signed a few pacts but all of it was nothing more than rhetoric.

Amidst the turmoil and strain which was increasing between the two countries, India decided to go passive about it to ensure no further cracks in the relation. One instance being, when the emergency was declared by the previous regime of Abdulla Yameen, New Delhi made no attempt to threaten him militarily despite expectations and demand by few of domestic commentators and Western diplomats.

In this context, India is actively engaged with all stakeholders in the reconciliation process in the wake of recent developments, in order to ensure that they continue to take the democratic process forward.

The Indian government had been under the shadow for its setbacks but the current political establishment of Maldives has given the boost to Indian side by showing an inclination towards it. This may help India take the control back again in the Indian Ocean Region.

The newly formed government was required to restore the mutual trust between India and Maldives which was missing in the previous governments and acting upon the same, newly sworn President visited our country as a state guest which is his first official visit to any foreign country after taking the oath. Bilateral relations have been further strengthened through the exchange of high-level visits in recent times.

The Prime Minister of India announced a provision of financial assistance up to $ 1.4 billion in the form of budgetary support, currency swap and concessional lines of credit to fulfil the socio-economic development program of Maldives.

The recent visit saw various pacts signed by representatives of both the country, including:

  1. Agreement on the Facilitation of Visa Arrangements
  2. Memorandum of Understanding on Cultural Cooperation
  3. Memorandum of Understanding for Establishing Mutual Cooperation to Improve the Ecosystem for Agribusiness
  4. Joint Declaration of Intent on Cooperation in the field of Information & Communications Technology and Electronics

The declaration will have a long-lasting effect and will boost the business. In the previous government, we saw the relationship between both the countries touching a new low on various issues like a visa. This resulted in fewer people to people connect during that time. This further resulted in the loss of revenue as a large number of Maldivian citizens come for medical treatment in India. This even stalled the India funded projects in the Maldives.

In this background, recognizing the importance of facilitating people-to-people exchanges and travel, the leaders welcomed the new Agreement on Visa Facilitation. The Prime Minister noted that the new Agreement will address the common concerns and ensure that people-to-people contacts are enhanced. The Maldives is one of the few countries with which India has a visa-free arrangement. Further, the Government of India to provide 1000 additional slots over next 5 years for training and capacity building in diverse fields including judicial, policing and law-enforcement, audit and financial management, local governance, community development, IT, e-governance, sports, media, youth and women empowerment, leadership, innovation & entrepreneurship, art & culture.

The two leaders reaffirmed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations both within the region and elsewhere. Both sides agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation on issues of common concern, including piracy, terrorism, organized crime, drugs and human trafficking. It was also agreed to intensify cooperation in the areas of training and capacity building of Maldives Police Service and Maldives National Defense Force.

Being an island country, the most important means of transportation for the Maldives is through seaways and this opens the gate for investment on ports. The new government is keen on improving the economic position of the country and for this, the focus is on port investment. This can be one more additional ground on which India and Maldives can work together for more consolidation of relations.

On the other side, to ensure a counter-narrative Chinese government has sent a special envoy to the Maldives and the same was met with equal reciprocation by the current government of Island nation. But the position is still now clear on how this relationship will take shape as the new President had earlier remarked that the Free Trade Agreement will be revisited by his government.

It is quite obvious to conclude from the historical context that India and Maldives is a natural ally. The Maldives is struggling against the radicalization of its youth and it is speculated that a large number of young populations have left the country and have joined ISIS. This creates a problem for a country which has seen a military coup in the past and these vulnerabilities will only threaten its democratic setup.

The Prime Minister of India, in a recent visit, noted that the vision of the government of the Maldives of a transparent, accountable, and rule-based administration sends a welcome message to regain the confidence of India. India must learn to engage the Maldives with sensitivity and devote sustained political attention and economic resources to transform the bilateral relationship into a genuine Indian Ocean partnership. This must not stop here and shall rather extend to providing democratic support but without any political intervention and undoubtedly, the backdrop of soft power remains.


About the Authors:

Pranav Tanwar and Saurabh Pandey are both currently 5th-year law students at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Pranav is interested in International Law and pursues the same through his writings. Saurabh’s interest lies in diplomatic relations and international developments.

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