Diplomatic tensions between India and the Maldives have emerged due to India’s withdrawal of military forces from the Maldives. China has built infrastructure in the Maldives as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. India is attempting to balance off this growing impact. The Maldives is home to over 400,000 people and is known for its strategic position between water canals and the economic zone. The country’s history of political instability and Islamist radicalism may complicate matters further. India plans to retain diplomatic ties with the Maldives and supports the new government’s “India first” policy.
Dr. Muhammad Muizzu, the Maldives’ newly elected president, has stated his objection to foreign military presence on Maldivian land by requesting the departure of India’s 75 troops. This suggests that ties between the two nations have worsened under Modi’s tenure. The former Maldivian government, which was pro-China, signed multiple deals with Beijing, including a 50-year lease on an island and a free trade arrangement. Although Muizzu maintained a neutral stance toward China and India, India backed the opposition coalition that helped him win the election. The Modi administration’s failure to engage and communicate with the Maldives might damage India’s geopolitical and security interests in the Indian Ocean area.
For the last two weeks, a large number of Maldivians, centred in the capital of Male, have demonstrated against the removal of Indian armed forces from their small island nation. The opposition party of former president Abdulla Yameen accuses the Maldivian government of secretly negotiating with New Delhi to permit permanent military bases in the Maldives. Regional power struggles between China and India for supremacy in the Maldives, an essential South Asian nation, will have far-reaching consequences throughout the area. The development of a dockyard for the Maldivian Coast Guard, funded by India and located on the Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) atoll close to Male, has drawn criticism from the opposition. Throughout the presidency of former President Abdulla Yameen, the Maldives improved relations with China.
However, the opposition’s campaign can erode the two regimes’ mutual trust and confidence and bolster the perception that India is a hegemonic power. The demonstrations may also show that the ‘neighborhood First’ strategy, which the Modi government adopted to counter China’s territorial ambitions and strengthen India’s ties with its neighbors, failed. Some have speculated that the Modi government may face criticism as a result of its decision to withdraw from the Indian Ocean area and its failure to engage or provide assistance to the Maldives.
In conclusion, India’s disengagement from the Maldives may alter China-India-Maldives geopolitics. Instead of “India first,” a more sophisticated foreign policy stresses China-India cooperation. Since China is already expanding its influence in the Maldives via the Belt and Road Initiative and the Free Trade Agreement, the move might demonstrate its supremacy in the Indian Ocean. Indian geopolitical and security worries will escalate as it loses sight of and access to the Maldives. India must restore and build fresh relations with the Maldives. Indian military withdrawal from the Maldives will disrupt Modi’s “Neighborhood First” initiative to enhance connections with neighbors and slow China’s expansion. Modi’s local and foreign admirers will criticize the Maldives power loss. China should reconsider its Maldives tactic when influencing South Asian states.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.