"India First" to "India Out" in the relations between India and the Maldives
"India First" to "India Out" in the relations between India and the Maldives
The continuous exchange of words between India and the Maldives has not arisen from singular, prolonged issues but has contributed to a gradual polarization of the world reminiscent of the bipolar order observed during the Cold War. The landscape of global politics is swiftly evolving, and within these transformations, nations that were once deemed insignificant are gaining significance in shaping local, regional, and global political dynamics.

The adage "Instability anywhere can be a threat to stability everywhere," attributed to John Kerry, an American Diplomat and Statesman, has found practical validation in recent times. The year 2023 unfolded as a period marked by wars and conflicts. The Russia-Ukraine conflict, on one hand, led to global polarization, while the Israel-Palestine conflict, on the other hand, gave rise to a neo-cold war scenario in contemporary times. These conflicts extend beyond their immediate regions, causing upheaval even in distant parts of the world.

As global nations have become divided along ideological, national interest, and other geopolitical lines, conflicts of interest are unavoidable. However, such disagreements should not escalate into physical violence, unrest, or war. The ongoing verbal exchange between India and the Maldives lacks deep-seated, long-term causes but contributes to a growing polarization of the world, reminiscent of the bipolar world order that characterized the Cold War era. The landscape of world politics is undergoing rapid transformations, where nations once considered inconsequential are now playing a significant role in shaping the local, regional, and global political dynamics.Israel, once overlooked, has now assumed a prominent role in contemporary global power politics. Similarly, Ukraine, formerly a part of the Soviet Union with limited significance, has garnered international attention through its defiance, prompting reflections on the Cold War era by nations worldwide.

In this scenario, the Maldives, a small island nation susceptible to climate impacts, which had previously received substantial assistance from India, has unexpectedly and regretfully refrained from reciprocating. The derogatory comments made by three Maldivian Ministers were aimed at instigating religious polarization, expressing solidarity with Palestine against Israel, demeaning India, and aligning with China. While these ministers have been suspended, the dispute carries adverse implications for the socio-economic, political, and diplomatic relations between the nations. To comprehend this issue, a holistic approach is necessary, surpassing the conventional perspective.

Significance of Maldives

Following Maldives' attainment of independence, India became the first nation to officially recognize its sovereignty in 1965. Given Maldives' strategic importance for India in areas such as maritime security, regional stability, and counter-terrorism, a strong partnership has developed. India has consistently supported Maldives through economic collaboration, infrastructure development, and capacity-building initiatives for socio-economic progress. Several instances underscore India's assistance to Maldives. Notably, in 1988, Indian Armed Forces intervened in "Operation Cactus" to thwart a coup attempt in Maldives. The Addu Reclamation and Shore Protection Project saw India constructing a drug detoxification and rehabilitation center and implementing 20 impactful community development projects covering healthcare, education, fisheries, livelihood, tourism, sports, and culture. Additionally, "Operation Neer -2014" addressed Maldives' drinking water shortage, and despite China's Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2017, India emerged as Maldives' second-largest trade partner in 2022.

Further collaboration includes the launch of the National College for Policing and Law Enforcement (NCPLE) by the Government of India in Maldives in 2022. "Operation Sanjeevani" witnessed India supplying approximately 6.2 tons of medical essentials to aid Maldives in combating Covid-19. Importantly, these efforts have yielded significant benefits for Maldives, particularly in socio-economic development, humanitarian assistance, and infrastructure improvement, all done without expecting anything in return. In 2023, India became the leading source of tourists for Maldives, contributing around 11.8% to their market share, providing a substantial economic boost.

From “India First” to “India Out”

The former President of Maldives, Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, declared the "India First Policy," emphasizing India's role as a longstanding, geographic friend and protector of Maldives within the South Asian region. Positioned within India's sphere of influence, Maldives benefits from India's role as a Net Security Provider, particularly advantageous for smaller and vulnerable nations. India, adhering to a "Neighborhood First Policy," prioritizes its relations with neighboring countries without expecting reciprocity. In this framework, Maldives holds a significant position. However, recent developments in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region reveal China's growing influence, marked by practices such as the debt trap policy, Belt and Road Initiative, and String of Pearls. Many of these initiatives, though, are deemed unsustainable and tend to favor China more than the dependent and needy countries, including Maldives. Maldives, unfortunately, finds itself ensnared in a developmental path influenced by China, a trend observed in other nations like Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. This shift raises concerns about the long-term viability and benefits of aligning with China's initiatives, prompting a reassessment of diplomatic and economic strategies for countries in the region.


The increasing contestation between India and China in defense, trade, and geopolitical factors holds growing strategic significance in the region. Consequently, the South Asian island nation of Maldives plays a pivotal role in creating an imbalance in the geopolitical, economic, and trade dynamics between the two giants. While the issue may not have monumental magnitude, the resulting chaos has the potential for long-term implications. India, as an emerging nation boasting the largest economy and a leading democracy, faces the imperative to seriously reconsider strategies for self-reliance and self-sufficiency, particularly in the realms of tourism and development. Although proposing Lakshadweep as an alternative to Maldives is contextual, it may not currently meet the expectations of tourists. Nevertheless, the development of Lakshadweep as a tourist destination underscores the need for a systematic and sustainable long-term plan of action to promote eco-friendly tourism. This approach is crucial for ensuring the region's attractiveness and maintaining a balance in the face of evolving geopolitical dynamics.

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