Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s request to India a day after he was sworn in to immediately withdraw its military personnel stationed in the island nation is not entirely unexpected.
'India Out’ campaign
His ‘India Out’ poll campaign had centred on protesting the presence of New Delhi’s troops and he had pledged to ensure the ouster of the Indian military from the country if he was elected. His mentor Abdullah Yameen had also protested against the presence of Indian troops on Maldivian soil. After Yameen was defeated, Ibrahim Solih came to power and adopted an ‘India First’ policy. He was believed to be under New Delhi’s thumb, a perception that perhaps cost him the election.
India has gifted two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft to Maldives and stationed a small contingent of military personnel to man these aircraft. So far they have been used for relief operations and as first responders in disaster situations.
Geo-political importance of Maldives is not lost on New Delhi
Muizzu’s request was made public by the Maldivian government but India is yet to react formally to the request. The Maldives statement said the request was in keeping with the electoral promise made by the President while acknowledging the role played by the helicopters and the aircraft for medical evacuations.
The decidedly pro-China tilt of Muizzu and Yameen may well be a cause of worry for India as the new establishment has hinted at a recalibration of the country’s foreign policy. The geo-political importance of Maldives is not lost on New Delhi. Several development projects have been initiated by India in the Indian Ocean nation, particularly the $500 million Greater Male connectivity project.
Roads, hospitals and even a cricket stadium are on the anvil. The new government would be unwise to junk these key projects and it is in Male’s interest to pursue cordial relations with New Delhi. However, India will have to carefully navigate the tricky waters in the Maldives. The change of guard should not cost it the friendship of a strategic neighbour.