The Maldives government has suspended three deputy ministers after they made unseemly remarks on social media about India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but this action is unlikely to restore bilateral relations to an even keel. The administration in Male acted only after the Indian side registered its strong concerns over the comments, which were made in the course of an online spat over whether Lakshadweep could be a tourist destination that rivals the Maldives. The row began after the Indian premier promoted Lakshadweep as a holiday destination. Maldives’ new government under president Mohamed Muizzu is widely seen as pro-China and the diplomatic spat unfolded even as Muizzu embarked on a nearly week-long visit to China, another break from the convention of Maldivian presidents making India the destination for their first foreign visit.
Muizzu has projected his policies as “pro-Maldives” while calling for the removal of Indian military personnel deployed in the Indian Ocean archipelago to operate helicopters and aircraft that are mostly used for humanitarian assistance and medical evacuations. He has also decided to end an agreement with India on conducting hydrographic surveys at a time when China has stepped up its surveillance activities in regional waters. Given the currently strained relations between India and China and Beijing’s efforts to expand its footprint in the neighbourhood, such actions will not foster trust between India and the Maldives. India has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure and community development projects in the Maldives and Indian tourists are among the main drivers of its tourism industry. Any deterioration of bilateral relations will only be to the detriment of Malé, whose leadership must realise the ramifications of their actions.
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