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Vows & Woes

The June 23 Presidential Election in the Maldives has brought some respite to India. As incumbent President Abdulla Yameen lost the election to unified opposition candidate Ibrahim Solih, the outcome has put India back in the strategic game in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Yameen’s pro-China stance had created trouble for the South Asian nation in the past. So, New Delhi expressed satisfaction over his defeat and described Solih’s victory as a game changer. Immediately after the announcement of the poll results, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Solih over phone and conveyed “his good wishes for the strengthening of democracy, peace and prosperity in the Maldives” under the President-elect.
In a statement, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said: “The two leaders agreed to work closely together to further strengthen the close, friendly and good neighbourly relations between the two countries.” It added: “This election marks not only the triumph of democratic forces in the Maldives, but also reflects the firm commitment to the values of democracy and the Rule of Law. In keeping with our ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy, India looks forward to working closely with the Maldives in further deepening our partnership.

Abdulla Yameen

During Yameen’s tenure, the Maldives repeatedly challenged the Indian foreign policy. First, Malé asked New Delhi to take back two military helicopters that India had gifted to the tropical nation in the Indian Ocean. Then, the Yameen administration asked India to call back the 50 Army officers stationed there to take part in development activities.
India considers Solih, who has been serving as a parliamentarian for more than 25 years, as a true friend. While campaigning for election, Solih promised that he would strengthen ties with all the neighbouring countries. He also said that his foreign policy would give priority to India, and not China! That’s why New Delhi has expressed hope that the two nations will maintain cordial ties during Solih’s presidency.

Ibrahim Solih

Just before the Presidential Polls, Yameen had alleged that India was secretly helping Solih. However, the Modi government rubbished the allegation. According to foreign policy experts, India was closely monitoring the political developments in the Maldives, as Yameen’s return to power could pose a serious threat to New Delhi. It is to be noted that the outgoing president had allowed Beijing to set up military bases in the Maldives.
Both China and India help Mauritius, Seychelles and the Maldives in different ways. They provide helicopters and patrol boats to these countries in an attempt to maintain their influence in the IOR. Diplomats believe that their actual plan is to set up military bases in the littoral countries.

Indian PM Modi

Interestingly, China had managed to bolster ties with the Maldives in recent years. The Asian giant, which had no embassy in Malé till 2011, has become an all-weather friend of the island nation. Even, the two nations signed a free trade agreement a couple of years ago, thus, putting India under tremendous diplomatic pressure. The accord allowed Beijing to invest in mega-infrastructure, housing, hotel and transportation projects. The Maldives not only backed China’s ‘One Belt and One Road’ (OBOR) Initiative, but also invited the Chinese companies to start ventures there.
Now, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs believes that Yameen’s defeat has allowed India to enjoy an advantageous position as far as the Sino-Indian diplomatic game is concerned.

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