Following the Supreme Court’s reversal of Abdulla Yameen’s conviction in a money-laundering case, the ‘India Out’ campaign in the island nation has intensified, with the former prime minister now leading the campaign.
According to the Hindu, Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) announced earlier this month that he will travel to the atolls to continue the campaign against “Indian boots on the ground” in the Indian Ocean archipelago, even as the government denies any Indian military presence. Social media users are sharing pictures of Yameen and his supporters wearing red t-shirts with a bold print of ‘India Out’, along with the hashtag ‘#IndiaOut’.
Earlier this week, the Government of Maldives said it was “profoundly concerned” by attempts to spread “misguided and unsubstantiated information to fuel hatred towards India”. Identifying India as one of the Maldives’ closest bilateral partners, the government attributed the campaign to a “small group of individuals and a few political personalities”.
The government stated in a statement that spreading hatred and making false allegations about bilateral ties with neighbouring countries tarnishes relations with trusted allies who provide consistent support to the Maldivian people. They also highlighted that such acts could affect the safety and security of citizens, and Maldivians living abroad.
“While the Government of Maldives champions the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, the Government strongly believes these fundamental rights should be exercised in a democratic and responsible manner,” a part of the statement read.
This is the second such statement issued by Male in recent weeks. On November 17, the government “strongly rejected” attempts to spread “false information” criticising its ties with India, its “closest ally and trusted neighbour”.
Between 2013 and 2018, when the Yameen administration was in power, India-Maldives relations deteriorated substantially. As a result of Yameen’s ultimatum to New Delhi, tensions rose over the withdrawal of two Indian helicopters from the strategically important Laamu and Addu atolls. India was also concerned about Yameen’s perceived China tilt during that period.
In September 2018, after President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was elected, his government re-established ties emphatically with an “India first” foreign policy. Solih told the Hindu in January 2021 that the Maldives “makes no apology” for its close relations with India, an open acknowledgment of his government’s India-centric foreign policy. Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, a party colleague of Solih and an influential voice in the Maldives has also said that India was the “most important country” for the Maldives, while accusing its political enemies of “xenophobia”.
However, critics of the government’s India relations pointed out that they were wary of Indian “military presence”. Observing that Yameen was only “giving leadership” to the “concerns” of citizens, PPM vice-president Mohamed Saeed slammed the government over its Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) harbour development deal with India signed in February 2021. “There is no transparency, and the government is reluctant to reveal the terms of the agreement in Parliament, despite having a majority in the House. India’s BJP leadership and the [ruling] MDP are damaging bilateral relations. We are not on the right course,” said Saeed, who was Minister of Economic Development in Yameen’s government.
Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Didi described the project as “vital” to the “effective functioning” of the Maldivian Coast Guard back in February when the UTF pact was signed. Yameen had reportedly made multiple requests for it during his tenure. According to Didi, the relationship between the Maldives and India today is stronger than ever.