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Maldives’ ‘India Out’ campaign

Relevance:

  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & Rest of the World || South East Asia

Why in the news?

‘India Out’ campaign in the Maldives is against the opposition to the UthuruThila Falhu (UTF).

Introduction:

  • The ‘India Out’ campaign has gained a lot of traction on social media.
  • According to reports in the Maldives media, the current government is allowing India to set up a military facility on the island by signing secret agreements in exchange for financial aid or other material benefits.
  • This charge is leveled against the government since the current ruling party’s leader, Mohamed Nasheed, requested India to intervene militarily in 2018 to restore peace and democracy in the country.
  • Former President Abdulla Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and its coalition partner, the People’s National Congress (PNC), are attempting to mobilize people against the current government by spreading false information about India.
  • The opposition alliance PPM and PNC began an Indiaout campaign on the streets and on social media, calling for the deportation of Indian military personnel stationed in the country.

Reason behind ‘India out’:

  • Protests and quickly spread across social media platforms: The ‘India Out’ campaign began in the Maldives in 2020 with on-the-ground protests and quickly spread across social media platforms using the slogan and a related hashtag.
  • Military presence:Protesters stated that they are only criticising the country’s military presence and are not asking for a violent confrontation with India or Indians in the Maldives.
  • According to the demonstrators, the ‘India Out’ campaign is about peacefully voicing concerns, not about people-to-people connections.
  • Anti-India attitude isn’t new; it’s been around for nearly a decade. It dates back to 2013, when Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom was elected president and relations between India and the Maldives worsened. Because the Maldivian administration was pro-China at the time, a lot of anti-India language was deployed. The Yameen government had openly advocated a ‘India-First’ policy for the Maldives, despite its evident pro-China stance.

How India has become a victim of the Maldives’ internal political predicament?

  • Former President Abdullah Yameen is widely regarded as a Chinese ally. From 2013 to 2018, Yameen served as President, and relations between New Delhi and Male worsened dramatically.
  • The current Solih administration, on the other hand, has adopted a ‘India first’ foreign policy.
  • The government of Solih has criticised the ‘India Out’ campaign and voiced worry over attempts to distribute “misguided and unfounded material to incite hatred against India.”

Issues that agitated sentiments against India:

  • Military presence issue in the past:
    • The first is the long-running dispute over the two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF) given to the Maldives by India in 2010 and 2015. Both were used for ocean search-and-rescue operations, maritime weather surveillance, and airlifting patients between islands, and were based in Addu Atoll and Hanimaadhoo. These helicopters were intended for humanitarian purposes solely, but some anti-India activists tried to depict them as military choppers, implying that by gifting them, India was establishing a military presence in the country.
    • When public outrage over the perceived military presence of Indian personnel in the country peaked in 2016, the Yameen government requested that India return the helicopters.
    • The successor Solih government’s seemingly friendly relations with India have only helped to exacerbate the country’s anti-India sentiment.
  • Domestic political grievances:
    • The lack of transparency in agreements negotiated between the Solih government and India is another common issue.
    • The ruling government’s and defence ministry’s claims that these agreements are confidential have sparked outrage in political circles, which has spread to ordinary Maldivians in the form of a barrage of criticism, inflammatory rhetoric, and unverified allegations, particularly on social media platforms.
    • For example, in February 2021, India and the Maldives signed the UTF Harbour Project, in which India agreed to develop and maintain a coastguard harbour and dockyard; and in 2016, India and the Maldives signed the 2016 Action Plan for “defence cooperation” to enhance “shared strategic and security interests of the two countries in the Indian Ocean region.”
  • Opposition to the consulate in Addu Atoll:
    • The Maldives President spoke on the proposed Indian consulate in the southern Addu Atoll, appearing to leave the option open, despite a “#SaveAddu” social media movement by Maldivians who are sceptical of another Indian mission presence, in addition to the Embassy in Male.
    • The plan has received backing from Addu legislators and local body representatives, all of whom are members of the ruling coalition, which is popularly seen as pro-India.
    • The proposed consulate has been challenged by opposition speakers, who previously launched a ‘#Indiaout’ campaign against increased military collaboration between the neighbours.
    • Aside from its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, Addu is the archipelago’s second largest city, with about 30,000 residents. According to Indian government officials acquainted with the idea, the consulate was established to provide Addu locals with expedited visa services.
    • Furthermore, the fact that the declaration was made public in Indian media last month, before either government made a statement, has sparked accusations of “heavy handedness” on the part of the Indian government.

India’s reaction is as follows:

  • India has asked for action against local media and has frequently cautioned individuals not to propagate anti-India sentiment.
  • According to article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, it is the responsibility of the Maldives to treat foreign ambassadors with due respect and to take all required efforts to avoid any attack on their freedom and dignity.

Major challenges:

  • Influence of the Chinese:
    • Even as it continues to give the island nation top priority, India is concerned about the growing Chinese influence in the Maldives.
    • Concerns over China’s participation in the Maldivian economy through so-called “debt-trap diplomacy” have grown.
    • Due to loans from China to fund numerous of its infrastructure projects, the Maldives incurred a debt of roughly $1.4 billion.
    • A free trade agreement had also been signed between the Maldives and China.
  • The Position of India in the Male Crisis:
    • Relations between the two countries were strained during their former President Abdulla Yameen’s pro-Beijing rule. In reality, there was a period in 2018 when India considered launching a military strike.
  • Dhruv’s squabble:
    • In 2010 and 2015, India handed the Maldives two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF), which were to be used for ocean search-and-rescue missions, marine weather surveillance, and airlifting patients between islands.
    • However, some PPM members sparked a debate by claiming that the helicopters signalled the beginning of military involvement in the country.
    • In 2016, the Maldives government requested that India return the helicopters, but India refused.
  • Transparency is lacking:
    • Another problem is the lack of transparency in the signing of agreements between India and the government of Solih.
    • For security considerations, the Maldives government has declined to divulge specifics of agreements inked with India.
  • The Naval Base controversy:
    • The UthuruThilafalhu, often known as the UTF Harbour project, is a strategically placed atoll near Malé’s city.
    • However, after the Solih government took power, there was speculation that the UTF project would be turned into an Indian naval base.
    • In 2016, both governments signed an action plan for defence cooperation to enhance “shared strategic and security interests of the two countries in the Indian Ocean region.”

Way forward:

  • Past learning’s:Despite repeated requests for intervention, India has steadfastly refused to take military action against the Yameen regime. New Delhi carefully coordinated its diplomatic reaction with other parties and put tremendous pressure on Yameen to hold fair and transparent presidential elections. This perseverance appears to have paid off, as India currently finds itself in a favourable position.
  • Approach with caution: If India wishes to prevent a situation similar to that in Nepal, where New Delhi’s perceived intervention in Nepal’s internal affairs turned the Nepali people against it, it must exercise caution. In the Maldives, having a smaller diplomatic footprint is the only way forward.’

Mains oriented question:

Because of its location in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is strategically important to India under the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Discuss. (200 words)