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Business News/ News / World/  India-Maldives row: In Indian troop withdrawal talks, what significance 15 March holds for President Muizzu?
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India-Maldives row: In Indian troop withdrawal talks, what significance 15 March holds for President Muizzu?

Maldivian President asks India to withdraw troops from tourist island before 15 March, amid row over Indian troop presence and upcoming elections.

Maldives president Mohammed Muizzu could seek support from Beijing to replace Indian assets with Chinese onesPremium
Maldives president Mohammed Muizzu could seek support from Beijing to replace Indian assets with Chinese ones

India-Maldives Row: Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu has asked India to withdraw their troops from the tourist island before 15 March. The troops, which India says provide help with humanitarian aid and medical evacuations for the residents of the remote islands of the country, have become a point of contention between India and Maldives, since President Muizzu, also known to be pro-China, assumed the seat of governance. 

However, reports suggest that the specific deadline to withdraw Indian troops from Maldives had more to do with a certain upcoming election, which holds significance for Muizzu's People's National Congress (PNC). 

Notably, Muizzu's party lost the Male mayoral election to the Maldivian Democratic Party, which wants to maintain ties with India, on 14 January. 

The loss also came amid Muizzu's visit to China, skipping an India visit. For the PNC to cement its hold over Maldives, it is crucial that they win the Majlis elections, set to be held on 17 March, two days after the Indian troop withdrawal. 

Officials in both Male and Delhi say that 77 Indian soldiers are posted in the archipelago country. There are also 12 medical personnel from the Indian armed forces, reports Reuters. India has also given Male two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft, which are mostly used for marine surveillance, search and rescue operations and medical evacuations.

During the first meeting of the India and Maldives core group, Maldivian representative Ali Naseer asked Indian High Commissioner to Maldives Munu Mahawar to replace the defence personnel with civilian crew by 15 March. Delhi’s response will come in the February round, reports Hindustan Times

The two ALH under Maldivian colours, one Dornier aircraft and one OPV have all been grounded, the HT report adds. 

Muizzu's recent visit to China has also heightened suspicion of anti-India campaign, which was inflated by three Maldivian ministers making ‘derogatory’ remarks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his Lakshadweep visit. 

Muizzu's China ties, especially skipping India has been a red flag for the PM Modi government. India has enjoyed strong ties with Maldives, that depends on Delhi for essentials for its 500,000 people, including rice, vegetables, medicines, and humanitarian assistance.

HT reports that Maldives is likely to seek China's help to wean off the India dependency. After Muizzu's recently concluded China visit he had said that China's President Xi Jinping has assured him that the Chinese government will help the Maldives achieve its goals.

The Hindustan Times report says that according to people familiar with the matter, Muizzu could seek support from Beijing to replace Indian assets with Chinese ones with the Xi Jinping regime arranging crews from private companies in Singapore. 

However, this move could cost Maldives and Muizzu upwards of $ 10 million, something that the cash-strapped Maldivian economy can ill-afford, they added. 

Maldives’ debt to China and India amount to 30% and 10% of its GDP. It has to pay $100 million this year to India according to its debt repayment schedule.

The islands sit along one of the busiest maritime trade highways in the Indian Ocean, through which nearly 80% of China’s oil imports pass.

For India, any potential Chinese military presence in Maldives would be considered a threat in its own regional back yard.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sayantani Biswas
Sayantani is an editor with Livemint. She covers stories of International and Indian politics, conflict
Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
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Published: 17 Jan 2024, 09:29 AM IST
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