Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the Lakshadweep islands, an Indian territory in the Arabian Sea, has sparked a diplomatic row with the nearby Maldives. The visit was meant to promote tourism in Lakshadweep, but comments by Maldivian officials criticizing Modi have led to outrage in India.
Modi’s beach holiday kicks up a storm
Modi traveled to the remote Kadmat island in Lakshadweep last week and was photographed strolling along an empty beach and interacting with locals. He described the islands as an “unexplored jewel” and promoted them as an attractive holiday destination for Indians.
However, his beach holiday kicked up a political storm in the Maldives. Some officials in the island nation mocked Modi’s visit, with one calling him a “clown” and others alleging that he was using Lakshadweep to divert attention from issues back home.
The Maldives depends heavily on high-end tourism and apparently saw Modi’s efforts to divert Indian tourists towards Lakshadweep as a threat to its own tourism industry.
India outraged over insults against Modi
The undiplomatic comments against Modi have created outrage in India. There are growing calls for a boycott of travel to the Maldives.
India’s film industry body has urged its members to avoid shooting movies in the Maldives. Travel agencies have suspended bookings to the Maldives. Social media is filled with hashtags like #BoycottMaldives and #ByeByeMaldives.
Several Indian celebrities have criticized the Maldives’ behavior. Cricket star Sachin Tendulkar called the insults “disheartening” while others like actor Anupam Kher lambasted the lack of “political etiquette” shown by Maldivian officials.
The Indian foreign ministry summoned the Maldivian ambassador to lodge a strong protest. It described the “unacceptable” remarks against Modi as contrary to the “close and friendly relations” between the countries.
Maldives cracks down on officials, woos China
Facing heat over the controversy, Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu suspended three officials for their undiplomatic comments. The foreign minister also phoned his Indian counterpart to smooth ruffled feathers.
However, President Muizzu does not seem overly concerned about India’s threats of a boycott. Last week, he visited Beijing and held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The two leaders discussed strengthening investment ties between their countries. Muizzu also invited more Chinese tourists to visit the Maldives. Currently, India accounts for around a quarter of total visitors to the Maldives.
Some analysts say the president’s actions indicate that the Maldives is willing to let ties with India deteriorate in order to build closer strategic ties with China. Recent years have seen China spend heavily in the Maldives as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
India-Maldives relations at a crossroads
The Narendra Modi government has devoted considerable effort towards cultivating ties with neighbors like the Maldives as part of its “Neighborhood First” policy. However, the current crisis shows the limitations of overdependence on personal diplomacy while ignoring serious geopolitical challenges.
In the Maldives, India is struggling to counter growing Chinese influence under President Muizzu. The opposition in the Maldives has also criticized India for backing regimes accused of undermining democracy.
The latest controversy has brought India’s relationship with the islands to a crossroads. Unless Indian diplomacy can find an urgent resolution, the crisis threatens to cause lasting damage.
Timeline of India-Maldives tensions over Modi visit
|PM Modi visits Kadmat island in Lakshadweep archipelago
|Maldivian officials mock Modi’s visit. One calls him a “clown”
|Outrage grows in India. Social media fills with boycott calls
|Indian film industry body urges boycotting Maldives for shoots
|Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu visits China, courts Chinese tourists
|Travel services suspend bookings to Maldives as row escalates
|Muizzu suspends officials over undiplomatic remarks against Modi
The crisis threatens to undo years of Indian efforts to cultivate strategic ties with the Maldives and counter growing Chinese influence. Much depends on how the two countries are able to resolve the current impasse.
In the short term, some efforts are being made to control the damage. The Maldives has suspended the officials responsible for the offensive remarks and issued apologies. Travel services have indicated they may resume bookings soon.
However, in the longer term, India-Maldives ties seem headed for more turbulence. President Muizzu is likely to continue cozying up with China to balance Indian influence.
For India, countering China while retaining leverage with the Maldives government will be a diplomatic tightrope. Creative solutions are needed to protect India’s national interests and regional leadership ambitions.
Ignoring or escalating the current crisis is not an option. India enjoys historical and cultural links with the Maldives dating back centuries. It also has strong geopolitical reasons to maintain close ties – like ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean region.
Losing the Maldives to the Chinese sphere of influence would deal a big blow to India’s global stature and its vision of being the dominant power in South Asia. Expect some proactive Indian diplomacy in the coming months to set relations back on an even keel.
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