India must maintain a strategic balance between Maldives and China

India cannot disturb its friendly relations with the Maldives.

The Malidive-India row following the derogatory remarks made on social media platform by three Maldivian ministers has to be handled with extreme care diplomatically.

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It is a time when India must maintain its dignity with firmness and put sufficient pressure on the Maldives so that such actions are not repeated in future but at the same time must see to it that the Indo-Maldivian relationship is not hampered to a great extent.

This is primarily important because Maldives in the Indian Ocean is crucial from a geo-political and strategic point to India in its defence and foreign relations.

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India cannot disturb its close friendly relations with the Maldives, particularly in view of the fact that China has been eyeing the Maldives for the past some time and attempting to do everything possible to bring it under its sphere of influence.

It is pertinent to note that even at the time of the ongoing India-Maldives row, the President of Maldives is on a visit to China.

Maldives, an island nation depending primarily on the tourism industry thrives on Indian tourists where nearly two lakh tourists from India go every year.

The Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives was called for a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where he was briefed on the ongoing row by  Ambassador-at-Large Ali Naseer Mohamed.

The government of Maldives on its side had already taken prompt action to diffuse the issue by suspending the culprits.

Earlier Maldives High Commissioner to India Ibrahim Shaheeb was summoned by the Indian External Affairs Ministry, where the Indian government had in no uncertain terms pointed out its serious dissatisfaction at the way the Indian Prime Minister was insulted.

Meanwhile, the whole issue had taken a different turn following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s posts on social media promoting tourism in Lakshadweep in India.

Cancellations of bookings to Maldives happened as a reaction to the row.

Indian celebrities came out strongly in defence of the Prime Minister including an actress cancelling her proposed shooting programs to Maldives.

Obviously, those who had gone ahead and made the remarks against the Indian Prime Minister would not have imagined how the whole issue could blow up and seriously affect the relationship between India and Maldives, besides leading to immediate economic loss of crores.

Three Deputy Ministers of the Youth Ministry, Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna, and Abdulla Mahzoom Maajid have been suspended.

Despite the fact that the government of Maldives has tried to distance itself from the whole issue by stating that the derogatory remarks were made in “their personal capacities” and were clearly not the views of the government of Maldives, serious damage has already been done.

Such remarks against the Prime Minister of your country cannot just be accepted, many Indians pointed out. The remarks were made in response to a video showing Prime Minister Modi in Lakshwadeep which was felt was promoting Lakshwadeep as a destination against Maldives.

The Maldives government while suspending those responsible has admonished that “personal views should also be expressed in a democratic and responsible manner”.

The whole issue has somehow got embroiled in coastal tourism rivalry between both countries with Modi visiting Lakswadeep being seen as trying to draw tourists away from the Maldives.

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, John Abraham, and others have come out strongly in support of the Prime Minister and would like that a place like Lakshwadeep must be developed as a tourist destination where they could go also for shooting purposes instead of going to Maldives.

The Maldives government has promptly clarified that it “believes that the freedom of expression should be exercised in a democratic and responsible manner, and in ways that do not spread hatred, negativity, and hinder close relationships between the Maldives and its international partners”.

In the Maldives, some viewed Modi’s visit as trying to draw tourists away from the country.

It has also to be kept in mind that the present President of Maldives had won the election to on the poll plank to lessen Indian influence over Maldives and to keep “India Out”. He is keen on bettering relations with China.

Interestingly he has as yet to make any official visit to India.

It is really a diplomatic challenge for India to maintain a balance in the strategic relationship between its two neighbours Maldives and China.

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