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Explained: The India-Maldives controversy

Three ministers from the Maldives government were suspended after comments against India and Prime Minister Modi. Here's a lowdown on the issue and the response on it

Samidha Jain
Published: Jan 8, 2024 12:26:59 PM IST
Updated: Jan 8, 2024 12:39:39 PM IST

Explained: The India-Maldives controversyAgatti beach, Lakshadweep, India. Image: Shutterstock

“For those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them, Lakshadweep has to be on your list,” read Prime Minister Modi’s caption on Instagram with an image of him on the beach, uploaded on January 5. The rather ordinary image has sparked controversy and a potential rift between India and Maldives.

The controversy began when three deputy ministers in the Ministry of Youth Affairs in Maldives---Maryam Shiuna, Malsha Shareef, and Mahzoom Majid---made negative comments about India and the Prime Minister following his recent visit to Lakshadweep.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Shiuna referenced India’s connections with Israel. Her colleagues subsequently chimed in, suggesting that the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Lakshadweep was intended to pose a challenge to Maldivian tourism, known for its renowned beachside amenities.

The Indian government raised the issue with Maldives, after which the Maldives government suspended the three ministers. In a statement, the Maldives government said, “The Government of Maldives is aware of derogatory remarks on social media platforms against foreign leaders and high-ranking individuals. These opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the Government of Maldives.” The Maldives government further said that it “believes in freedom of expression but that has to be exercised in a responsible manner.”

India-Maldives relationship

Maldives holds a significant position as India's crucial maritime neighbour within the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). It plays a special role in initiatives such as 'SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and is a focal point for the Indian government's priorities under the 'Neighbourhood First Policy.'

Mohamed Muizzu, the president of Maldives, made headlines soon after his swearing-in ceremony in November 2023 when he asked India to withdraw its military presence from the Maldives archipelago (island group). India has maintained that the military presence there is mainly aimed at providing medical support to the distant islands of the Indian Ocean nation. President Muizzu subsequently met PM Modi during the climate summit in Dubai on December 1.

The current spat comes ahead of Muizzu’s visit to China, and was taken up by Chinese state media outlet Global Times that praised the president’s foreign policy and said, “It only demonstrates that Muizzu is treating India with a normal mind-set and steering the relationship between the Maldives and India to a normal state-state relationship.”

What has been the response?

Amidst the Indian-Maldives row, Indian celebrities, sportspersons, and business founders, including Akshay Kumar, Bhumi Pednekar, Pooja Hegde, Madhur Bhandarkar, PV Sindhu, Shilpa Shetty, and Varun Dhawan, and Snapdeal Co-founder Kunal Bahl, have written about the islands of India, and their wish to include Lakshadweep in their travel bucket lists. This controversy has led many Indians to cancel their holiday bookings in Maldives, screenshots of which have been trending on X. People are also using X to generate talk about Indian beaches and islands with #ExploreIndianIslands which has been trending on X since yesterday.