Neighbourhood First: Maldives visit will flag-off Modi 2.0’s foreign policy agenda

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New Delhi | Published: June 3, 2019 6:25:45 PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Maldives, his first after re-affirmation of a robust mandate in the recent polls is a strong reiteration of his “neighborhood-first” policy, sans Pakistan.

Modi’s visit is sure to breathe new life into bilateral relations with the Maldives and in a larger context, flag-off Modi 2.0 foreign policy agenda.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Maldives, his first after re-affirmation of a robust mandate in the recent polls is a strong reiteration of his “neighborhood-first” policy, sans Pakistan.

It is also a clear and unambiguous signal that underscores the importance attached to our bilateral ties with neighbours (He is also likely to visit Sri Lanka from the Maldives, to express solidarity after the Easter attacks). This was also amply evident in the participation of BIMSTEC Heads of Government in PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.

“During President Abdulla Yameen’s government, the bilateral relations were strained and witnessed a distinct drift. Disregarding India’s deep concern, Yameen opened up the Maldives for Chinese investments in many areas including projects that impinge on India’s security in the Indian Ocean Region. Also, Yameen’s tenure was rife with internal tumult. Do note, Modi did not visit during Yameen’s tenure,” Rajeev Shahare, former ambassador to the Maldives, tells Financial Express Online.

President Ibu Solih, his election as President was heartily welcomed by India, has re-established ‘India-first’ policy. The new Maldivian government is chary of the huge Chinese debt burden inherited from Yameen’s government and intends to reverse its China policy.

Sharing his views, Shahare says, “In this regard, President Solih is looking towards India with hope and expectation and keen to strengthen strategic ties with India.”

Significantly, Modi was the only Head of Government to attend President Solih’s swearing-in in November last year which was followed by latter’s bilateral visit to India.

While China has made inroads in the Maldives and expanded its footprint in the past five years by financing mega-projects such as the bridge linking Male and Hulumale, buying islands, contributing to Maldives’ tourism etc., India’s approach has been different.

On the other hand, in the past six months under President Solih’s government, India has fast-tracked many projects that have significantly touched the lives of Maldivians in the health sector, education (ITEC and other scholarships), urban development, sports, restoration of old mosques by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) etc, says the former Indian envoy to the Maldives.

In addition, and significantly at that, India provided budgetary support and revived lines of credit to deal with the debt burden and finance new ventures. The visit, among other things, is likely to consider crucial projects, discuss Indian Ocean security issues and providing expertise in the SME sector.

Modi’s visit is sure to breathe new life into bilateral relations with the Maldives and in a larger context, flag-off Modi 2.0 foreign policy agenda.

In 2018, bilateral relations with the Maldives were strained after Yameen had declared emergency in the country, which was because of an order by that country’s Supreme Court to release a group of Opposition leaders.

New Delhi had criticised the Yameen government for the imposition of the Emergency and had urged it to restore the credibility of the electoral and political process by releasing political prisoners.

The Maldives is of strategic importance to India and is home to over 22,000 Indians. There are more than 1,000 coral islands and atolls which are covering a huge maritime area stretching 750 Kms from the north to the south.

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