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Maldives rejects ‘India out’ campaign

Context:

The Government of Maldives said it “strongly rejects attempts to spread false information” criticising its ties with India, its “closest ally and trusted neighbour”.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important International Institutions, India’s Neighbors, Foreign Policy Affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is behind the ‘India Out’ campaign in Maldives?
  2. Issues that agitated sentiments against India

What is behind the ‘India Out’ campaign in Maldives?

  • The ‘India Out’ campaign started in 2020 as on-ground protests in the Maldives and later spread widely across social media platforms using the phrase with a related hashtag.
  • Protesters said that they are just protesting military presence in the country and not calling for a violent clash against India or Indians in Maldives.
  • This ‘India Out’ campaign is not about people-to-people relations and it is just a form of peacefully expressing concerns according to the protesters.
  • The anti-India sentiment didn’t just sprout overnight and is nearly a decade old. It can be traced back to when Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom became president in 2013 and India-Maldives relations deteriorated. A lot of anti-India rhetoric was used during that time because the Maldivian government was pro-China. Although the Yameen government’s tilt in favour of China was clear, it had also openly discussed an ‘India-First’ policy for the Maldives.

Issues that agitated sentiments against India

Military presence issue in the past

  • The first is the long-standing controversy over the two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF) that were given by India to the Maldives in 2010 and in 2015, both of which were used for ocean search-and-rescue operations, maritime weather surveillance and for airlifting patients between islands, and were based in Addu Atoll and at Hanimaadhoo. These helicopters were for humanitarian purposes only, but some in the anti-India constituency, were trying to portray that by gifting these helicopters, India was creating military presence in the country because they were military choppers.
  • When domestic fervour against the perceived military presence of Indian forces in the country reached its peak in 2016, the Yameen government had asked India to take back these gifted helicopters.
  • The successor Solih government’s visibly warm relations with India have only served to fuel anti-India sentiment in the country.

Domestic political grievances

  • Another recurring complaint is the lack of transparency in agreements being signed between the Solih government and India.
  • The ruling government and the defence ministry saying that these agreements are confidential has led to agitation in political circles that percolated down to ordinary Maldivian nationals and has taken the form of a wave of criticism, inflammatory rhetoric and unverified allegations, especially on social media platforms.
  • For example, the UTF Harbour Project agreement signed between India and the Maldives in February 2021 wherein India was to develop and maintain a coastguard harbour and dockyard; and the 2016 Action Plan between India and the Maldives that was signed for ‘defence cooperation’ to enhance “shared strategic and security interests of the two countries in the Indian Ocean region”.

Opposition to the consulate in Addu Atoll

  • The Maldives President remarked on the proposed Indian consulate in the southern Addu Atoll, appearing to keep the option open, amid an ongoing “#SaveAddu” social media campaign by a section of Maldivians sceptical of another Indian mission presence, in addition to the Embassy in Male.
  • Legislators from Addu and local body representatives — from the ruling coalition widely perceived as India-friendly — have pledged support to the initiative.
  • Opposition voices, which earlier led an ‘#Indiaout’ campaign against enhanced military cooperation between the neighbours, have opposed the proposed consulate.
  • Apart from its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, Addu is the second largest city in the archipelago, home to over 30,000 people. Indian government sources familiar with the proposal said the rationale for the consulate was to help Addu residents with speedy visa services.
  • Further, the fact that the announcement appeared in the Indian media last month, before either government made an announcement, has prompted criticism of Indian “heavy handedness”.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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