India’s relations with the Maldives, the picturesque atoll nation in the Indian Ocean, has been in rough waters for some time now. The ongoing visit of Maldivian Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim as a special envoy of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom to Delhi is seen as an attempt to reset this crucial relationship, underpinned by close geographical proximity, strategic calculations and development partnership.
“While there is no specific agenda for the visit, we expect close bilateral consultations,” Mr Asim said. He added that the focus would be on advancing bilateral ties on the basis on pacts signed during President Abdulla Yameen’s visit to Delhi in April 2016. He is accompanied by Foreign Secretary Ahmed Sareer and Aishath Azeema, joint secretary in Maldives foreign ministry.
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj held wide-ranging talks with her Maldivian counterpart in New Delhi on January 11. The two ministers focused on resetting relations in view of a spate of negative reports suggesting a deepening chill in India-Maldives ties.
The thorn in the bilateral ties has been the Free Trade Agreement with China that Maldives had hurriedly signed in November last year, which was perceived by India as going against its “India first” policy, and the island nation’s endorsement of the Belt and Road initiative that New Delhi has been opposing. Moreover, the media loyal to President Gayoom has been critical of the present Indian government and Prime Minister Modi in particular, accusing them of promoting a hard-line Hindutva agenda.
Restrictions were also placed on the movements of India’s ambassador to the Maldives Akhilesh Mishra. In addition, India’s support for the former ousted President Mohammed Nasheed, who is presently under a jail term and New Delhi’s official invitation to him, has only sharpened tensions between New Delhi and Male. Mr Modi has not visited the Maldives ever since he took office after planned visit in March 2015 was cancelled in the aftermath of the clampdown on political protests in Male.
The opposition in Maldives has already been critical of the President’s decision to send a special envoy saying that it is to “avoid direct interaction with his Indian counterpart, either forced by China not to, or he is too proud and big”.
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