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Business News/ News / India/  India-Maldives row: Why does Maldives want Indian troops out | Explainer

India-Maldives row: Why does Maldives want Indian troops out | Explainer

Tensions between India and the Maldives rise as President Muizzu seeks to reduce India's influence and strengthen ties with China.

India-Maldives ties hit rock bottom. The Maldivian president asks India to withdraw troops from his country by March 15. (AFP)Premium
India-Maldives ties hit rock bottom. The Maldivian president asks India to withdraw troops from his country by March 15. (AFP)

India-Maldives row: The relationship between India and the Maldives has hit a new low after Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu made a formal request to New Delhi to remove its military personnel from the island nation by March 15, 2024. The move comes a day after Muizzu returned from China, India's regional rival, and made comments critical of India. Tensions between India and the Maldives have been rising since Muizzu swept into power in September on a campaign to reduce India’s influence on the island. Muizzu is known to share a closer relationship with China. Both India and China have alternatively vied for influence in the tiny island country, investing heavily in upgrading the Maldives’ infrastructure and extending loans to it.

Global east-west shipping lanes pass the nation's chain of 1,192 tiny coral islands, stretching around 800 kilometres across the equator.

Male sets deadline for Indian troops' withdrawal, EAM says ‘cannot guarantee…'

India's government has traditionally considered the Maldives, home to around half a million people, to be within its sphere of influence.

China and the Maldives upgraded their relationship during Muizzu's first state visit to Beijing last week by agreeing to a "comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership" that sets the stage for the Asian giant to up its investments in the Maldives.

‘India should be…’: Shashi Tharoor on growing proximity between Maldives, China

The Maldives owes China $1.37 billion, or around 20 per cent of its public debt, according to World Bank data.

Why Indian military stationed in Maldives?

The Maldives is also one of the biggest beneficiaries of India's Neighbourhood First policy.

The Maldives is India's key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in its initiatives like SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the Neighbourhood First Policy' of the Narendra Modi-led central government.

Maldives sets 15 March deadline for India to pull out its troops

The Maldives' proximity to India, barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep and 300 nautical miles from the mainland's western coast, and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean give it significant strategic importance.

India-Maldives row: President Muizzu says ‘no one has license to bully us’

India operates and maintains radars, helicopters, and aircraft in the Maldives, some of which are used for medical evacuations. The Indian Navy also patrols Indian Ocean waters. Currently, there are around 70 Indian military personnel in the Maldives. As many as 24 military personnel manage the first helicopter, 25 personnel manage the Dornier aircraft, 26 manage the second helicopter and two look after maintenance and engineering.

Known activities of the Indian military include operating two aircraft donated by India and assisting in the rescue of people stranded or faced with calamities at sea.

Why does Maldives want Indian troops out?

With Beijing and New Delhi tussling for influence, Muizzu was elected in September after pledging to cultivate "strong ties" with China. Muizzu pledged to evict Indian forces during his election campaign in 2023. Once he was elected as the president, his anti-India rhetoric became more evident.

Maldives President Muizzu signs 20 agreements with China, including tourism

And, in January this year, the tension between New Delhi and Male flared after three of Muizzu's junior ministers reportedly called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a "clown" and a "terrorist" in since-deleted social media posts earlier this month. Following this, the Maldivian president visited China and on a daily, he said, “We may be small but that doesn't give you the licence to bully us".

In December last year, President Muizzu claimed that, after dialogue with the Indian government, an agreement was reached to withdraw Indian military personnel.

Muizzu had accused his predecessor of compromising national sovereignty by allowing India to have its military personnel in the Maldivian islands.

In one of the recent interviews with the Times of India, the president told said that if India did not withdraw its forces it would amount to disregarding the "democratic will" of the Maldivian people and jeopardising the future of the democracy.

India sent the highest number of tourists to the Maldives last year with a share of 11 per cent. But Muizzu said China used to send the most before the pandemic and steps will be taken to double that number.

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Published: 15 Jan 2024, 12:03 PM IST
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