Comment: India-Maldives ties moving forward

Nothing explains the width and depth of bilateral relations between India and Maldives than the speed with which the People’s Majlis passed a special legislation unanimously for the visiting Heads of State and Government to address members in a special session, only days before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to arrive in Male for bilateral talks with President Mohammed Nasheed.

Despite the deep divisions within the Maldivian polity, which often gets reflected in Parliament, as in other democracies, Maldives offered a near-full House when Singh became the first visiting Head of Government to address the House.

“The People’s Majlis is a testimony to the strong faith the people of Maldives have shown in democracy. As a fellow democracy, we take delight in your achievements,” the Prime Minister said.

“India will be at your side in your transition to a fully functioning democracy. We will assist the Majlis by way of training, formulation of rules and regulations, and any other assistance that you may desire,” he said, touching upon the democratic milestones achieved by this “pearl of the Indian Ocean” in a short span since 2008, when the nation adopted a new Constitution providing for multi-party democracy and elected a new President.

Singh also touched upon the formation of the India-Maldives Parliamentary Friendship Groups. The Indian Prime Minister also met with the Leader of the Opposition in the Majlis, Thaseen Ali of the Dhivehi Rayyathunge Party (DRP), setting a healthy precedent.

In a way, the Prime Minister’s references to the ushering in of democracy in Maldives and the strengthening of democratic institutions in the country were an acknowledgement of the initiatives taken by President Nasheed and his Government since his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) began a movement for the purpose while in the opposition.

As Singh pointed out in his Majlis speech, Maldives has “undertaken the reforms necessary for the independent functioning of the judiciary and other vital organs of the State. The People’s Majlis has upheld the freedom of speech and expression of the people and the media which are the pillars of democracy,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s references to capacity-building thus included Indian assistance to all sections and sectors of Maldivian Government and democratic institutions. When put into action, it would go a long way in furthering democratic linkages, whose institutional mechanisms would go a long way in deepening and widening the ties and trust between the two Indian Ocean neighbours.


After structured talks between President Nasheed and Prime Minister Singh, the two sides signed six agreements. Topping the list was the Framework Agreement on Cooperation in Development. The agreement committed India to aiding and assisting Maldives in a series of development projects over the coming years. India is already committed to setting up the Maldivian National University in Male, for which buildings are already coming up.

Another agreement provides for New Delhi renovating the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in the capital, a gift from India. Prime Minister Singh said that India would also undertake a feasibility study on constructing a port in northern Kulhudhuffushi. India also contributed substantially to the development of Addu City and Atoll into the ‘convention capital’ of Maldives to help integrate the southern part into the nation at a faster pace.

Given the economic realities in which Maldives is placed, combined with some of the politically-driven decisions of the Government in the past, Indian assistance for the atoll-nation has always been substantial and readily forthcoming. Immediately after President Nasheed came to office in November 2008, India extended a US$100 million line of credit, as sought by the Maldivian Government. In 2009, India fully subscribed the $ 100-m treasury bonds floated by Maldives.

Among the agreements signed during the prime ministerial visit this time, one provided for a US$100 million standby credit facility for the country.

Sensitivity to security concerns

The second item on the list of six agreements was a ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Combating International Terrorism, Trans-national Crime, Illicit Drug Trafficking and Enhancing Bilateral Cooperation in Capacity-Building, Disaster Management and Coastal Security’.

As the long title indicates, the agreement reads all-inclusive, to cover all aspects of security, starting with human security. At the news conference held after the conclusion of the agreements and bilateral talks, both the leaders touched upon the decision to introduce ferry services between the two countries.

Considering the logistics and other issues involved, the two sides would be holding further talks in the matter, to dovetail Indian concerns, if any, and Maldivian interests, given the continuing family and cultural linkages between the peoples of the two countries in some islands.

“In furtherance of the shared recognition that the security interests of both the countries are inter-lined in the region, they (the two leaders) reiterated their assurance that each side would be sensitive to the concerns of the other on the issue and that their respective territories would not be allowed for any activity inimical to the other and by any quarter,” the Joint Statement issued at the conclusion of the visit said.

Though tugged in between commitments on fighting international terrorism, piracy and drug-trafficking, the message was clear. In this context, the joint statement said, “The two leaders agreed to strengthen cooperation enhance maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region through coordinated patrolling and aerial surveillance, exchange information, capacity-building and the development of an effective legal framework against piracy.”

India’s concerns in the shared Indian Ocean neighbourhood do not stop with terrorism, piracy and drug-trafficking, though, among them, there is always a greater concern about the first in the list. Strategic analysts in India and elsewhere have often been writing about the perceived increase in fundamentalism in Maldives. At the conclusion of the SAARC Summit, fundamentalist elements in southern Addu set fire to, and later decamped with, the monument erected by Pakistan as part of a SAARC custom. To them, the motifs at the foot of the monument depicting the artefacts of the Indus Valley Civilisation had idols of worship, which was not allowed in Islam. The reference was to motifs resembling Buddha, worshipped in some of the SAARC nations.

While the fundamentalist Adhaalath Party has gone to court, charging the Government with going against the letter and spirit of the Constitution, some leaders of the newly-formed Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), founded by former President Maumoon Gayoom, said those who destroyed the monument were ‘national heroes’. PPM and Adhaalath Party youth also held demonstrations, something that not all the senior leaders in the former reportedly relished. The strategic community reads all this in the context of the 26/11 experience, when sea-borne terrorists had attacked Mumbai, the nation’s business capital. For the Maldivian authorities, it is a concern about the increasing permissiveness and acceptance of fundamentalist elements, if not ideology. However, the dividing line, as they understand, is also thin.

India’s concerns are also directed at China, whose increasing interest in Maldives came to the fore with the opening of an embassy in Male on the eve of the SAARC Summit. India is alive to diplomatic and political realities, where the opening of an embassy by any country in any other by itself should not be a cause for concern. But New Delhi’s concerns now are because of China’s increasing military might and strategic ambitions, particularly in the immediate Indian Ocean neighbourhood. However, India draws clear distinction between China’s economic interests and investment potential in all nations in the neighbourhood and beyond, though New Delhi is not unaware of the political clout and dominance that it could facilitate over time.

While the neighbourhood countries are hungry for huge investments, Indian private sector, unlike their Chinese counterparts, if the latter could truly be called so, has not been so forthcoming. The result is that the countries are left with little choice. In this regard, the Indian Government may have to do as much at home as overseas to encourage the Indian industry to put big money in the neighbourhood, combining economic interests with a sense of national duty, and not crib that China and Chinese are everywhere and that they had no space to play out when they enter overseas markets belatedly.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


11 thoughts on “Comment: India-Maldives ties moving forward”

  1. India has so far bailed out Nasheed's government on multiple occasions with millions of dollars of credit. We don't know the full terms of these credit facilities and even the total actually taken by the Maldivian regime.

    What's clear from this is that Nasheed has not undertaken the key structural reforms (which it promised to the IMF) necessary for the long term health of the economy. Without these reforms the IMF will not give a cent to the regime which explains why it's going repeately with the begging bowl to India.

    India is doing a massive disservice to the future generations of this country by repeatedly bailing out the failed economic policies of this regime. It should take the same tough line as the IMF!

  2. I agree Ahmed.

    India has now introduced a transport network to increase Indian exports to Maldives while making half-hearted comments about encouraging Indian tourist traffic to the Maldives.

    Let's see if that tourist traffic ever evinces. However, one is certain we would be flooded with Indian goods. Indian tourists are just SO not the type to prefer luxury resorts and spas.

    One is certain India is practically moving to annex the Maldives and tear it away from its current position as a UK/US puppet in the UN. Security Council elections and god-knows-what faces us in the near future. Indias links to the US are not completely set in stone so having one of the famed Small Island States (a.k.a. faceless powerless votes-for-hire) at the UN would certainly be advantageous for an "emerging superpower".

  3. Singh Government and Nasheed Government may be close. But now it is more difficult for ordinary Maldivians to visit India. India is now not allowing Maldivians to go to India without a two month gap. They are also now enforcing previously loose areas like visiting for medical purposes without a visa.
    I call upon Maldives Immigration to apply reciprocity with respect to Indians. Some Indians come with bags of lime,chillies and vegetables, sell their commodities and leave the next day. and return to Maldives with more goods after a couple of days.Do unto them what they do to us!Mutually applied reciprocity should be the principle.

  4. @ Mohammed
    I am so glad the two month gap is being applied to Maldivians. This will stop petty traders posing as medical tourists (stocking up on car parts, clothing, medicines and foodstuffs to sell in the Maldives) from making too many trips to India. Trivandrum is full of these so called 'medical tourists' and the inevitable 'students'.
    May I suggest you go to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand for your medical treatment and the madrassas in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are particularly good for your students.
    Just give us Indians a break OK?

  5. It is really frustrating to see the comments here.india is helping out the Maldives by providing millions of dollars, constructing hospitals, ports...but still maldivians are suspicious and hate it. If you hate somebody then have a spine and don't take their money!.i believe India naturally has an affection for Maldives. Of course geo political considerations also play a major role . India sees an ally on maldives.
    Flood maldives with indian goods?. Maldives is smaller than small indian towns, so what market are we talking about.Empty vessels make the most noise!

  6. India is a democracy and will know the features of a democracy and regime. India is a growing economy and will know how to have another economy growing. Unless India is satisfied that her contribution to the Maldives is made the intended use of it India would not continue paying the Maldives the Indian taxpayer money. Indian government is accountable to its people and cannot ignore the public interest.

  7. tsk, how many votes can the Maldives possibly canvass for India at a UN General Assembly? India-US relation would not justify India annexing the Maldives because of her powerlessness or helplessnees. All Maldivian islands scattered across the Indian Ocean put together cannot in size be a part of India's smallest villages as one comment here said. India's exports to Maldives are the basic foodstuffs and building materials. One can recall that affected by floods Indian export of such products was controlled or suspended, and there was an outcry for India's support and the Maldives government would appeal the government of India to ease any ban or control. In fact, India looks upon the Maldives as a small brother and feels a duty in looking after the country.

  8. Well it is so glad to see that relations for past 50 odd years mean nothing because India decided to put in force a visa policy (that happens to applicable to all other nationals visiting India). Indian goods flooding Maldives? Last WTO report I remember China is biggest exporter to Maldives. Indians not spending enough on your luxury spas - sorry folks- Indians are not that rich. But I still wonder why India is subscribing to Maldivian bonds. Anybody would do that given Maldive is such a booming economy. Lets take the Indo-Maldivian relationship further by asking India to stay clear. That should teach them a lesson.

  9. Maldivians take advantage of the freedom they get to visit and stay in India and Sri Lanka. Maldivians living in India are very much checked by Indian Police and verification visits to homes are conducted by police. All Maldivians living in Trivandrum has to fill a form with photo and submit to police if the visit exceeds 24 hours. But in Maldives the People come get 30 day visa and get lost in the island. I strongly believe that however much we need the service of expatriate labor we should implement our laws and regulations so that no one misuses the privileges offered.

  10. Dear Maldivians, The Indian firm which is in agreement with the govt. of maldives was working for the last 16 month for preparing and finalizing a detailed project report for establishing a MUTI DISCIPLINE UNIVERSITY.Finally they are into implementation phase.It is assured that the by the completion of this project the disjunctives of Maldives especially in the field of higher education,medical science will be resolved to the max extent...........

  11. Oh dear, the 'moving forward' of India-Maldives ties is really bad news. Do we Indians really want to 'move forward' with a backward nation of islamists where they still flog women in public and deport non muslims for having religious hymns on their laptops?.....a nation that goes into hysterics over some innocuous statues and icons belonging to other faiths? This 'moving forward' business will only result in more and more poorly educated Maldivians flooding into Trivandrum, Kochi, Hyderabad and Bangalore.
    As for annexing Maldives.......we'd sooner annex Somalia!!


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