Ties between India and the Maldives deteriorate further after island nation calls on New Delhi to withdraw military contingent

Expelling troops is part of ‘India-out’ election pledge by newly-elected Maldivian president Mohamed Muizzu

India’s ties with the Maldives have deteriorated further after Male formally called upon New Delhi to withdraw its military contingent from the island republic by March 15th.

The weekend ultimatum to Delhi followed the first meeting in the capital Male of the recently instituted India-Maldives High Level Core Group, comprising senior diplomats and officials from both sides, and intended to further bilateral relations.

“Indian troops cannot stay in the Maldives. That’s the policy of this government,” Ahmad Nazim Ibrahim, policy director of the newly-elected Maldivian president Mohamed Muizzu told reporters on Sunday.

About 80 Indian military personnel, comprising mostly technicians, have been stationed in the Maldives since 2010 to maintain and operate two multipurpose naval helicopters gifted to Male for coastal surveillance. They also maintain a Dornier-228 maritime reconnaissance aircraft which was transferred to the Maldives in 2020.


India’s foreign office declined to comment on its troop withdrawal deadline. But its spokesman conceded that varied bilateral issues were discussed at the group meeting, including a “mutually workable solution” to enable the continued operation of Indian aviation platforms which provide the Maldives with humanitarian and medical evacuation services.

Expelling these Indian troops was part of the “India-out” election pledge by Mr Muizzu – who assumed office in mid-November – and aimed at mitigating Delhi’s diplomatic, strategic and economic influence over the Maldives.

The Maldivian demand for the Indian troop extraction also came hours after Mr Muizzu returned from a state visit to China where, much to India’s chagrin, Male and Beijing agreed to boost bilateral ties to a “comprehensive strategic co-operative partnership”.

As part of its muscular foreign policy and emergence as an economic and military power, India has long considered the Maldives to be within its sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean region. It has been wary in recent years of China’s influence over the nearly 1,200 island archipelago and extended itself on multiple fronts to expand its influence.

Mr Muizzu, however, has been determined to defy India and to support China. Upon his return from Beijing on Saturday, where he met president Xi Jinping, he said the Maldives was not a country that was “in the backyard of another country, but an independent nation”.

“We may be small but that does not give them the licence to bully us,” he said at a press conference.

The president was referring to a diplomatic wrangle between New Delhi and Male following recent derogatory social posts by three Maldivian deputy ministers against prime Minister Narendra Modi, in which they called him a “clown”, a “terrorist” and a “puppet of Israel”.

Strong protests by New Delhi led to the ministers’ suspension, but in India it triggered a groundswell of outrage on social media against Maldives and a tourism boycott of the archipelago by Indian celebrities, including Bollywood stars and businessmen, many of whom routinely took holidays there. Several travel platforms also suspended flight bookings to Male, causing major revenue losses to Maldivian tourist resorts.

The Maldives is heavily dependent on India for grain and food supplies, engineering goods, infrastructure development and healthcare, with a large number of Maldivians travelling to its hospitals for treatment.

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Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New Delhi