The public has once again taken it to the streets to protest against the Indian military presence in the Maldives. This is the second such large-scale protest to take place this year against Indian military presence in the Maldives.
This protest was also marked by the sheer number of people who gathered in thousands on the streets of the capital Malé city. The protest was organized by the Opposition Coalition and it’s “Defend Maldives” movement.
Todays protest was attended by the entire leadership of the opposition coalition, members of the Maldives Revolutionary Movement along with retired senior military and police officials.
Protestors called for the immediate and unconditional removal of Indian military presence in the Maldives. They also called for the resignation of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Defence Minister Mariya Didi and Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid ac
The growing hegemonic practices of India combined with the Indian imperialism and subsequent military in the Indian ocean has created public resentment against India. The once warm relations enjoyed by the people of Maldives and India has deteriorated to the point where some in the public now call to end all diplomatic ties with India.
India’s military presence in the Maldives which has been confirmed by Defence Minister Mariya Didi is a source of discomfort for the public who are adamantly against any foreign boots in the Maldives.
Another source of discomfort for the public is many allegations against the Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives. Journalists and politicians have accused the Indian High Commissioner of meddling in domestic affairs of the country and of offering bribes and inducements to various state officials.
Indian dominance since 2018.
The 2018 Presidential Election was met with mixed reactions from before and after the election. Senior officials of the current administration appealed to India to take military action against the Maldives citing rigged elections. This sentiment was shared by many senior officials of the Indian Foreign Service and independent think tanks as they also reiterated that armed action may be the only solution. However, when incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won the election, the allegations of rigging and unfair campaigning practices disappeared.
Public discomfort due to the relations between the senior officials of the current administration and India was first sparked when current ruling party President and Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Nasheed alleged that India had meddled with the 2018 Presidential Election.
Speaking to India Today, Speaker Mohamed Nasheed stated “First of all, no one thought we would win the election. Everyone thought it would be heavily rigged, and we had no chance. But India didn’t think that. Indian officials and Indian diplomats were at it. They knew that they can create a small window, and you know, if we even get a millimeter, we knew we could go ahead and we could win the elections. So to start with, I think Indian diplomats were very clever. This is not something I usually say but they were very very clever in, in, you know there were many many unreasonable demands from us. On what India should be doing because of lack of democracy there and because everything was suppressed. But they didn’t do what we asked them to do but all sorts of other things which brought us the election.”.
While this clearly indicates that India had influenced the 2018 Presidential election, the current administration and independent state authorities continue to ignore what might be a serious breach of security and a threat to the democratic system in the Maldives.
Many have compared the situation to the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
Some argue that India’s plans to assert its influence in the Maldives dates back to former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration when he welcomed the Indian conglomerate GMR to take over the nation’s main airport worth over $ 1 billion for an alleged $78 million. GMR was known to have actively played a role in local politics.
The unwelcome Indian Military Presence in the Maldives.
Although the Government of Maldives initially rejected the accusations of having signed security agreements with India under which Indian military personnel would be allowed to station themselves in the Maldives, Defence Minister Mariya Didi has recently confirmed as to otherwise. Defence Minister Mariya Didi acknowledged that Indian Military personnel were indeed stationed in the Maldives, proving that the top brass of the military and the government had lied to the public on the subject.
While the government continues to reject any application to publicize the security agreements under the RTI Act, even the Parliament has been left in the dark on the exact nature of the agreement. According to the constitution of the Maldives, no foreign boots may be stationed in the Maldives without full approval of the agreement by the Parliament, posing question on the validity of the agreements.
Indian Radar Network System.
In June 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the opening of the Indian Radar Network system in the Maldives. A series of 10 radar systems located at strategic points to provide “eyes for the big brother”. While it was initially stated that the radars would be used to safeguard the Special Economic Zone of the Maldives, Indian think tanks and media have alluded to other strategic uses.
According to reports from the media, the Radar Systems would be a strategic asset for India to keep an eye on the waters surrounding the Maldives. It was stated that the radars would allow India to spot Chinese military vessels and submarines travelling in the region.
Stationing and operating military assets in the Maldives would mean that it has become a point of military operation. This fact is one of the major driving forces behind the anti-Indian military sentiments in the Maldives. Some netizens have stated that were India to clash with another regional power, Maldivians would have to face collateral damages for stationing Indian military personnel and hardware in the Maldives.
Moreover, Maldives which has long remained neutral and non-aligned would be taking a side on the growing escalation between the western forces, its allies and Russia and China.
Indian military presence in the Maldives
To the ire of the public, India has also taken control of multiple strategic military locations citing development projects such as the northern most Hanimaadhoo International Airport, the capital city area military base UTF and the South most city of Addu.
UTF- a strategic naval base.
The Uthuru ThilhaFalhu or UTF is one of the most strategic military naval bases in the most due to its close proximity to the capital city area and the fact that it’s surrounded by the waters of Maldives.
On 21st February 2021 Indian foreign Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar signed an agreement to develop and maintain the harbor of the UTF, a site which has been described as the last line of defense for the capital city. Months later the agreement was leaked to local newspapers which revealed that Indian military personnel at the UTF would be allowed to carry arms and live rounds. Moreover, the armed Indian soldiers would be allowed to carry out their own surveillance of the maritime boundaries of the Maldives using the facilities at UTF.
The agreement also allows for the Indian military to maintain their presence at UTF for a total of 60 years.
Addu city military base- Indian eyes on global trade routes.
The Southernmost Addu city has also become the target of the growing Indian military presence in the Maldives. The development of the training academy in Addu city has been the subject of concern for the public as India continues to expand the boundaries of the military training facility.
Sources close to the project have hinted that local military and police have little to no control over the site and what goes there. Many have accused India of developing its own military base in the strategic Addu city which sits near the equator and close to a major maritime trade route.
Public outrage also poured out against the military base in Addu city after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet unilaterally decided to open a Consular General’s office in Addu city. This violation of the Geneva Convention on Diplomatic Relations have meant that public resentment against these breaches of sovereignty continue to grow.
Future of Indo-Maldives relations.
Maldives has enjoyed warm relations with India dating back to centuries. However, the Maldivians are a hardy and patriotic people who value their independence and religion above all other. And India’s growing military presence and interference in the domestic affairs of Maldives has undeniably provoked the ire of the Maldivian people, as evident by the thousands of people who took the streets in protest against India.
While the current administration and the New Delhi friendly President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih continue to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the public concerns, resentment against India will continue to grow and ultimately prove itself to be a major obstacle for diplomatic and trade relations between the two countries in the coming years.
Regardless of the weak foreign policy adopted by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration, Indo-Maldives relations will continue to worsen if India does not remove their military personnel and hardware and if the current administration does not adopt a more transparent approach to the exact nature of relations between the current administration and India. It is imperative that India adopt a non-aggressive foreign policy for the continued harmony and relations between India and Maldives.