The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and People’s National Congress (PNC) — the two main parties in the ruling coalition in Maldives — used ‘anti-India’ sentiments during the campaigning for the 2023 presidential polls, a report by European Union Election Observation Mission, Maldives (EU EOM) stated.
Notably, Mohamed Muizzu won the presidential elections in Maldives last year. He defeated incumbent President Ibrahim Solih with 54 per cent votes. This was the second round of polling after no one emerged clear winner in the first round.
The report highlighted that the campaign was based on the “fears of Indian influences and anxiety regarding the presence of Indian military personnel inside the country”.
The observers also found instances of “derogatory language”, directed towards then-president Ibrahim Solih.
It also alleged that the campaign was subject to multiple ‘online disinformation attempts’ as the PPM campaigned demanding the release of former President Abdullah Yameen, who is in jail on corruption charges.
“EU EOM observers noted instances of derogatory language, directed towards the president, on the side of PPM-PNC. Their campaign included anti-Indian sentiments, based on alleged fears of Indian influences and anxiety regarding the presence of Indian military personnel inside the country,” the report stated.
Notably, as part of New Delhi’s Neighbourhood First Policy, the Maldives is strategically significant to India because of its location in the Indian Ocean. India and the Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious, and commercial links steeped in antiquity and enjoy close, cordial, and multi-dimensional relations. However, regime instability in the Maldives since 2008 has posed significant challenges to the India-Maldives relationship, particularly in the political and strategic spheres.
Ties between India and the Maldives deteriorated significantly when pro-China Abdulla Yameen served as the President between 2013 and 2018. It was only after Solih came to power in 2018 that ties between New Delhi and Male improved. Although India continues to be an important partner of the Maldives, New Delhi cannot afford to be complacent over its position and must remain attentive to the developments in the Maldives. India must play a key role within the Indo-Pacific security space to ensure regional security in South Asia and surrounding maritime boundaries. China’s strategic footprint in India’s neighbourhood has increased. The Maldives has emerged as an important ‘pearl’ in China’s ‘String of Pearls’ construct in South Asia.
But, the fact of the matter is that the few Indian troops present in the Maldives are only involved in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief work. During a media briefing in October this year, Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said that India’s cooperation with the Maldives is brd on jointly addressing shared challenges and priorities.
“The assistance and platforms that we have provided have contributed significantly in areas like people’s welfare, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and combating illegal maritime activities,” Bagchi said. “Over the last five years, more than 500 medical evacuations have been carried out by our personnel, saving 523 Maldivian lives.
Of these, 131 evacuations were carried out this year, another 140 last year, and a further 109 in 2021. Similarly, during the last five years, more than 450 multifaceted missions have been carried out to safeguard the maritime security of Maldives. Of these, 122 missions were carried out last year, while 152 and 124 missions were undertaken in 2021 and 2020 respectively. India has also been the first responder for Maldives in any disaster scenario, including most recently during Covid.”
“This theme was subject to multiple online disinformation attempts. The PPM also campaigned strongly on the image of former President Yameen, demanding his release from prison,” it added.
Notably, the recently published report comes amid the ongoing diplomatic row between India and Maldives which was triggered between India and Maldives after the Maldives deputy minister, along with other cabinet members and government officials, made disparaging references to PM Modi’s Lakshadweep visit.
India raised strong objections to the derogatory comments. The Maldivian Ambassador to India was also summoned over the issue.
Indians, including cricketers and film celebrities, have since come out in open support in promoting local beach destinations and other tourist spots. They also voiced support for PM Modi’s call for promoting beach tourism in Lakshadweep.
Several Maldivian politicians, including former Presidents and Ministers, have condemned the remarks and reiterated India as a close and important partner for the island nation.
The Maldives government has, however, distanced itself from the remarks made by its ministers. Maldivian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Moosa Zameer said that these remarks against foreign leaders are “unacceptable” and do not reflect the official position of the Maldives government.
(with inputs from ANI)