Amid derogatory remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi by members of Maldives’ ruling party, People’s National Congress led by Mohamed Muizzu, Organiser Assistant Editor Ravi Mishra talked to Meekail Ahmed Naseem, Member of Parliament, South Galolhu constituency in Male, Maldives and leader of Maldivian Democratic Party (MPD). He said that it was years and years of anti-Bharat rhetoric that has now deepened hate some people have and the xenophobia within them. He held President Muizzu responsible for what is happening today : Excerpt
Maldives is in the news because of derogatory remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi by leaders of the ruling People’s National Congress. Don’t you think this has damaged Bharat-Maldives relations?
Yes, it will deteriorate relations between Bharat and Maldives if this is not contained soon. I think that for us to have closure, it is important for the Government of Maldives to issue a formal apology and, at the very least, sack the Deputy Ministers, who are responsible for this diplomatic row and the growing anger between the people of both countries.
These irresponsible remarks have hurt Bharatiya tourists. Will it create an impact on Maldives’ tourism sector?
Well, yes, I think even in the 72 hours of this controversy, we have seen thousands of bookings from India to Maldives being cancelled. And we have seen the Indian Chamber of Commerce calling to suspend all bookings to the Maldives. And for this reason, I think the impact that it could have on our economy could be detrimental. We need to be cautious about it and we need to bring the whole diplomatic row to an end as soon as possible.
Since the arrival of Mohamed Muizzu as President of Maldives, there have been a growing anti-Bharat sentiments in your country. What was the trigger point?
Yes, because I don’t think that this was an arbitrary one-off event or incident that happened. It is the culmination of years and years of anti-India sentiments that they have been spewing anti-Bharat rhetoric that has been used to gain votes and score political points locally. So, this has been the culmination of years and years of anti-India hate spread by the current ruling party. And so I think this will continue as long as the Government does not publicise its formal apology and make a strong stand against what its Deputy Ministers have done. The supporters of the party, as well as people within the Government, might see this as an indirect way of condoning what they did because no serious action has been taken against them.
Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu was on China’s visit recently, where he reportedly requested the Chinese Government to encourage tourists to explore his island nation.
Yes, I think it is a reality that we cannot disregard tourist arrivals from India. We will take a hit due to this. As long as the Government continues on this path, the trajectory our tourism industry will take will be very, very different from what we anticipated. So I think that is clear to the President as well and the ruling party. And I think with this statement that he made, at this point in time, was kind of disrespectful because, on the one hand, your Deputy Ministers are insulting the Prime Minister of our closest neighbour, whom we have had very good relations with for long years. And the same week, you are asking its geopolitical rival, China, to make itself the number one source of tourists to Maldives. So I think this kind of muscle, flexing it is unbecoming of Maldives. We are a very tiny nation, and we need to maintain a balanced foreign policy approach, and we can’t be so dependent on any one country.
“As the opposition, I, on behalf of my party, have now submitted a formal request to the Speaker of Parliament requesting him to summon the Foreign Minister as soon as possible to the Parliament because we need to question why the Government has
not issued a formal apology”
Indo-Maldives relations are not only limited to tourism. A large number of people from Maldives visit Bharat for medical reasons. Is it possible for the Maldives to ignore Bharat?
It’s not possible because as you rightfully mentioned, we have thousands of Maldivians visiting India for medical purposes alone every year. It is easy to resolve issues when it is Government to Government level. But when this kind of anger spills over onto the general population and when this anger comes from them, I think it is more dangerous. And I am fearful. I am fearful for both Indians in Maldives as well as Maldivians in India and vice versa because this could take a whole new turn, and this could even lead to hate crimes in both countries. I don’t know. And I think we need to be mindful of this and before this escalates to that level, I think Maldives Government needs to show force and to show solidarity with India.
Recently, President Mohamed Muizzu said he would not allow Indian security forces in Maldives. The fact is that the number of Indian security forces is even less than 100. And there is no Indian military base there. Do you think President Muizzu is responsible for deterioration in relations between the two nations?
He and his party have been the source of the whole problem. That’s where this originated from. The blatant lies that they used in the election and leading up to the election led to this. It just didn’t happen out of thin air. It was years and years of anti-India rhetoric that has now deepened the hate some people have and the xenophobia within them. I think that’s what’s leading to that. So yes, Dr Muizzu is responsible for what’s happening today.
As an opposition, what is your party doing to overcome this controversy?
As the opposition, I, on behalf of my party, have now submitted a formal request to the Speaker of Parliament requesting him to summon the Foreign Minister as soon as possible to the Parliament because we need to question why the Government has not issued a formal apology. And why has it not terminated the Deputy Ministers in question? Because, you know, more than what they did, I find it more disrespectful that the Government is keeping them on. Still, they are on the payroll, and they are being paid. I don’t know why the Government has decided to suspend them, whether they give more weight to the loyalty and the work they have done for the ruling party vis-a-vis our relations as a nation to India. So I think this is very worrying and I think this needs to be resolved as soon as possible. We are also, in addition to that, we are also summoning the Deputy Ministers in question to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament. So that’s what the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will be doing.