Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India-Maldives Relations: Is the Rough Patch Over?

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India-Maldives Relations: Is the Rough Patch Over?

Article excerpt

The 'neighbourhood' has always been an important aspect of India's foreign policy. It was recently emphasised by the present government through its 'neighbourhood first' policy. Within this construct, India-Maldives relations have come into focus due to many reasons - the most glaring of which is the fact that while PM Modi has visited all neighbouring countries, many within the first year of assuming office, he is yet to visit Malé.

After independence from Britain in 1965, Maldives' relationship with India has generally been stable. However, this situation has changed somewhat in the last few years, especially after the removal of Mohamed Nasheed from power in February 2012 which led to a complex power play in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). India has been trying hard to regain stability in its bilateral relations with the Maldives; but the rough patch seems far from being completely over.

Maldives is an archipelagic nation, situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It is located 300 miles from the southern coast of India and 450 miles southwest of Sri Lanka. It consists of 1,192 islands, of which nearly 200 are inhabited. With a population of about 350,000, it is one of the most dispersed countries in the world. It is a low lying nation, and most parts of the country are barely a meter above sea level. This makes Maldives very vulnerable to the phenomenon of climate change and sea level rise.

The strategic location of the Maldives straddling important SLOCs and its proximity to Deigo Garcia - where the US Central Command base is positioned - has aroused the interest of important world powers. In the past, countries like Iran, Libya, and the former Soviet Union have shown interest in leasing the erstwhile British base in Gan, one of the Islands of the archipelago - perhaps for military purposes. In recent times, countries like China and the USA have been interested in getting a foothold in the Maldives. External powers have occasionally aided and abetted political conspiracies, bringing political instability to the country. Being a 100 percent Sunni Muslim country, Maldives has also been close to the Islamic world, especially the Gulf countries.

Some of the main drivers of Maldivian foreign policy have remained constant over the years. They are its small size, strategic location, and religious identity. The small size of Maldives also makes it vulnerable to coups. It has been suggested that the most realistic and effective arrangement to keep small states secure is bilateral agreements with major powers, which have overwhelming military capabilities.1 This makes it imperative for the country to remain friendly with major powers like India, the US, and China, as well as to join multilateral forums like the SAARC.

To properly understand India-Maldives relations, it is important to highlight Indian interests in that country. Firstly, India is interested in political stability in its neighbourhood, and Maldives is no exception. Secondly, India would like to prevent Maldives from falling under the influence of any force (state or non-state) that are inimical to its security interests. These forces can also change the security environment in the IOR. Thirdly, a large number of Indians work in Maldives, and India is interested in their safety and security. Finally, India would like the investments of its companies in the Maldives to remain secure.2

The Evolution of Maldivian Foreign Policy: Early Years after Independence

Maldives became a member of the United Nations (UN) immediately after its independence in 1965. With this step, it wanted to end the isolation of the country, and hoped that its membership would bring much needed security to the archipelago nation. It also hoped to get technical assistance from the international community, urgently required for the development of the country. Maldives also joined various UN agencies and other multilateral organisations hoping to get development assistance. …

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