India-Maldives Relations


    Syllabus: GS2/International Relations

    In Context: 

    • Maldives and China signed 20 agreements after the Muizzu-Xi meeting amid a diplomatic row with India.


    • The Chinese President with his Maldivian counterpart signed 20 “key” agreements, including on tourism cooperation, disaster risk reduction and the blue economy.
    • It also announced the elevation of their bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.

    Recent Maldives-India Row:

    • The latest trigger has been undiplomatic words used by ministers in Maldives against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular and Indians in general.
    • The new government led by President Mohamed Muizzu asked India to withdraw military personnel and chose China for one of his first overseas visits.
      • Maldives President Muizzu in his visit also urges China to reclaim top spot in tourist arrivals which was dominated by India in the last few years.
    • The incumbent government rode to power on an ‘India Out’ poll campaign.
      • The release of a report by the EU Election Observation Mission of Maldives said, the ruling coalition in Maldives deployed anti-Indian sentiments and attempted to spread disinformation in the 2023 presidential elections in which Mr. Muizzu won.
    • Maldives has also decided not to renewthe agreement with India on a hydrographic survey of its waters.
      • The agreement, signed in 2019, allowed India to conduct a hydrographic survey of the Maldivian territorial waters, study and chart reefs, lagoons, coastlines, ocean currents and tide levels.

    Evolution of India and Maldives Relations

    • The relationship between India and the Maldives has evolved over the years, influenced by geopolitical, economic, and strategic considerations. 
    • Early Diplomatic Ties (1965-1978): The Maldives gained independence from the British in 1965, and established diplomatic relations with India.
      • India was one of the first countries to recognize the Maldives as an independent nation. 
    • Strategic Partnership (1978-1988): The signing of the Maritime Boundary Agreement in 1979 helped define the maritime boundaries between the two countries.
    • Political Turbulence (1988-2008): The relationship faced challenges in 1988 when a coup attempt in the Maldives led to the intervention of Indian forces in Operation Cactus. 
      • India’s military intervention was aimed at thwarting the coup and preserving the Maldives’ political stability. 
      • This event temporarily strained diplomatic relations but was later resolved.
    • Normalization and Economic Cooperation (2008-2013): In 2008, the Maldives experienced a peaceful political transition, and Mohamed Nasheed became the President.
      • The relationship between India and the Maldives improved, focusing on economic cooperation, trade, and people-to-people ties. 
      • India provided developmental assistance to the Maldives, particularly in infrastructure projects and capacity building.
    • Period of Strain (2013-2018): The relationship faced challenges during the presidency of Abdulla Yameen, with concerns over issues such as democratic backsliding, human rights, and a perceived tilt towards China. 
      • The Maldives’ growing engagement with China, including infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative, raised strategic concerns for India.
    • Renewed Engagement (2018 Onward): The election of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as the President of the Maldives in 2018 marked a shift in bilateral relations. There was a renewed emphasis on strengthening ties with India.
      • The two countries reaffirmed their commitment to democratic values, and India extended financial assistance for various developmental projects.

    Significance of Maldives for India:

    • Location: Maldives’ proximity to the west coast of India (barely 70 nautical miles from Minicoy and 300 nautical miles from India’s West coast).
    • Trade Route: Situated along crucial maritime trade routes between the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Malacca, the Maldives acts as a “toll gate” for nearly half of India’s external trade and 80% of its energy imports.
    • Strategic Importance: The Maldives is strategically located in the Indian Ocean, and its stability and security are of interest to India. 
    • Counterbalancing China: Maldives presents an opportunity for India to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean, fostering regional balance of power.
    • Economic partnership: India is one of the biggest investors and tourism markets for the Maldives, with significant trade and infrastructure projects underway.
    • Defence: Defense and Security Cooperation: Since 1988, defence and security has been a major area of cooperation between India and Maldives.
      • A comprehensive Action Plan for Defence was also signed in 2016 to consolidate defence partnership.
      • Estimates suggest that almost 70 per cent of Maldives’ defence training is done by India — either on the islands or in India’s elite military academies.

    Significance of India for Maldives:

    • Essential Commodities: India supplies Maldives with its everyday essentials: rice, spices, fruits, vegetables, poultry, medicines and life-saving drugs. 
    • Education: Every year, Maldivian students come to Indian higher educational institutions. 
    • Economic dependence: Of the Rs 50 crore total trade between India and Maldives in 2022, Rs 49 crore was India’s exports to Maldives. India emerged as Maldives’ second largest trade partner in 2022.
    • Disaster Relief Assistance: When a tsunami struck the islands in 2004, India was the first to send in help.
      • In 2014 Male had a drinking water crisis as the major desalination plant broke down, India overnight airlifted drinking water to the islands. 
      • During the Covid-19 pandemic, India sent essential medicines, masks, gloves, PPE kits and vaccines for the island country.


    Political Instability

    • Domestic turmoil in the Maldives: Recent political upheavals and changes in government can create uncertainty and complicate long-term cooperation projects.

    Chinese Influence

    • Economic and infrastructure investments: China’s growing economic presence in the Maldives, evidenced by investments in infrastructure projects and debt-trap diplomacy, can be perceived as a challenge to India’s strategic interests in the region.
    • Military ambitions: Chinese naval expansion and potential military ambitions in the Indian Ocean with the active support from Maldives can  raise concerns for India.

    Security Concerns:

    • Non-traditional threats: Piracy, terrorism, and drug trafficking remain concerns in the region, requiring continuous collaboration and intelligence sharing between India and the Maldives.
    • Extremism and radicalization: The Maldives’ vulnerability to religious extremism and radicalization poses a security threat that necessitates joint efforts in countering such ideologies.

    Economic and Environmental Concerns:

    • Trade imbalance: The significant trade imbalance between India and the Maldives could lead to resentment and calls for diversifying trade partnerships.
    • Impact of climate change: Both nations are highly vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels, requiring coordinated efforts for adaptation and environmental protection.

    Overcoming the challenges:

    • Open and transparent communication: Regular dialogue at all levels can address concerns and build trust.
    • Focus on common interests: Prioritizing areas like maritime security, climate change, and economic development can solidify the foundation of the partnership.
    • Respect for sovereignty and non-interference: Both countries must respect each other’s internal affairs and avoid interference in domestic politics.
    • Strengthening people-to-people ties: Cultural exchange programs and educational collaborations can foster deeper understanding and empathy.
    • Addressing internal issues: Both India and the Maldives need to address domestic challenges like corruption and instability to project a positive image and foster a stable partnership.

    Way Ahead:

    • The evolution of India-Maldives relations reflects a combination of geopolitical dynamics, changes in leadership, and shared regional interests. 
    • India is steadfast in its commitments towards Maldives and has always walked the extra mile towards building relations. 
    • Any impulsive steps to undo the carefully nurtured all encompassing partnership is likely to harm Maldives more than it would India. 
    • By acknowledging and addressing these challenges, India and the Maldives can navigate the complexities of their relationship and build a stronger, more resilient, and mutually beneficial partnership for the future.

    Source: TH

    Mains Practice Question
    [Q] Anti India-sentiments along with deep Chinese presence in Maldives is a cause of concern for India. Discuss the measures India needs to take to regain the ground in Maldives? [15 MArks, 250 Words]