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Mending fences

Mending fences
Highlights

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has just concluded his visit to India, smoothing out any irritants in bilateral ties, and seeking greater cooperation in several areas including defence. The visit was akin to that of K  P  Sharma Oli, the PM of Nepal, in March. India certainly rubbed its two neighbours the wrong way in recent years, by interfering in internal affairs. 

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has just concluded his visit to India, smoothing out any irritants in bilateral ties, and seeking greater cooperation in several areas including defence. The visit was akin to that of K P Sharma Oli, the PM of Nepal, in March. India certainly rubbed its two neighbours the wrong way in recent years, by interfering in internal affairs.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi even skipped Maldives during his major Indian Ocean tour a year ago, and went on to visit Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka. Fall of the first democratically elected government of Mohammed Nasheed, who is pro-India, in 2012 saw India hastily stepping in and taking sides.

Understandably, the successor Mohammed Waheed leaned towards China and even cancelled a Male airport project bagged by an Indian firm. India’s providing shelter to a beleaguered Nasheed also did not stand it in good stead. Yameen came to power in 2013 elections.

He also pushed for strong ties with China and even sought Saudi Arabia hand to further boost Islamisation of the republic. Maldives being a totally Sunni state, its clergy is forging ties with Pak madrassas. Yameen is even said to have rapped India in talks with its representatives. This stirred India into a rethink, and, rightly, resetting its policy.

It kept its hands off domestic developments in Maldives and set soft diplomacy in motion to win over the President. Historical and cultural ties between both nations also played their part with finesse and soon Maldives warmed up to India as before.
India is uneasy as Maldives grows its ties with China.

Chinese role in various Maldives projects, its reported interest in leasing one of Maldives islands, and inclusion of Maldives in its ambitious Silk Road Project have not certainly gone down well with India. However, the Modi regime needs to assure itself that its neighbours sans Pakistan always have a special relationship with India. India has always been a friend in need for Maldives.

Whether it was foiling a coup in 1988 or coming to its rescue during tsunami in 2004 or rushing drinking water supplies on a war-footing to the archipelago in December 2014, it stood by Maldives in times of crises. This fact is not lost on President Yameen who has now promised to pursue ‘India First’ policy.

For India, the importance of Maldives cannot be overemphasised. As Indian Ocean faces threat of being turned into a Chinese lake, India needs a base in Maldives. Maldives, a SAARC member, is strategically located along major sea lanes, which see a large portion of world trade.

Yameen’s visit has cemented ties with India, as was done by Nepal PM last month. But his visit is also apparently to seek India help to fend off sanctions by Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group which warned Maldives over the trial of former President Nasheed.

As things are now back to normalcy in ties with Maldives and Nepal, India needs to bear in mind that while sky is the limit for growth of ties and trade with neighbours, it should not play a big brother nor even be seen as one.

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