Modi’s Beach Visit To Remote Indian Archipelago Rakes Up Storm In Maldives

Himalaya Times
Read Time = 4 mins

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a series of photos on social media last week showing him snorkeling, strolling on a white-sand beach and lounging in a chair next to turquoise waters in Lakshadweep, an island chain in the Indian Ocean.

It was an “exhilarating experience,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter, as he peppered with praise the pristine lesser-known and remote Indian archipelago his government believes has untapped potential for tourism. The images were met with awe by Indians on social media, particularly Modi’s supporters.

But some 70 nautical miles south, his beach photos raked up a storm.

In the tiny archipelago nation of Maldives, some saw the tourism campaign as an attempt to draw visitors away from their country. Three senior Maldives officials reacted to Modi’s post over the weekend calling him a “clown,” a “terrorist” and a “puppet of Israel.” Many other Maldivians insulted Indian tourists on social media.

In India, the response was swift.

Government officials, Bollywood stars and cricketers began urging people to turn to Lakshwadeep, in a push to promote local holiday destinations. Many holidaymakers posted screenshots on X with the hashtag #BoycottMaldives to show they had canceled their trips to the island nation. On Monday, an Indian travel portal, EaseMyTrip, joined in by suspending bookings for flights to the Maldives, saying the move was made “in solidarity with our nation.”

The Maldives officials later deleted their posts and were suspended by the country’s president for posting “derogatory” comments against India, in a bid to control the fallout with New Delhi.

The incident highlighted the fragile nature of the relationship between India and the Maldives and its susceptibility to a breakdown at a time when Beijing and New Delhi are both vying for influence in the island nation.

It also showcased a conundrum faced by the Maldives — where successive governments have either been pro-India or pro-China — and the high stakes in a nation where tourism is a major part of its economy.

Indian tourists were the largest group by nationality that visited the Maldives last year, comprising nearly 11% of its tourism market, according to the official Maldives tourism website. Many of them are high-spending visitors who love its luxury shores.

India is also a strategic ally of the Maldives, with military personnel stationed on the islands. But relations between Male and New Delhi have deteriorated since Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, who is seen as pro-Chinese, was elected in November after campaigning on an “India Out” platform calling to remove the personnel, saying they posed a threat to his country’s sovereignty.

Maldivian presidents have long made New Delhi their first international destination after being elected, as a nod to India’s influence in the island nation. But Muizzu broke with that tradition and flew to Turkey in December for his first overseas trip.

Muizzu traveled to China on Sunday, the day the controversy over Modi’s beach visit broke. On Tuesday, Muizzu described Beijing as the island nation’s “closest” ally and urged it to increase investment in the Maldives, signaling a shift in policy.

“China was our No. 1 market pre-Covid, and it is my request that we intensify efforts for China to regain this position,” he said in a speech at a business forum in Fujian province in southeastern China.

Experts say the Maldives cannot afford to distance India and that its government’s swift action to suspend the officials and denounce their comments showed how much it values relations with New Delhi.

Former Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed said Muizzu choosing to visit China before India would not have “raised any eyebrows” if not for his “India Out” campaign during the election.

“I don’t see anything that shows a tilt towards China,” he said, referring to Muizzu’s speech in Fujian, adding that it was a standard speech he had delivered previously.

But Shaheed said the controversy over Indian troops stationed in the Maldives may have ignited tensions.

An unknown number of Indian military personnel are stationed in the island nation. Their activities include operating two helicopters donated by India and assisting in the rescue of people who need help at sea.

There are signs the Maldives does not want to escalate the tensions further.

The Maldives Association of Tour and Travel Operators on Tuesday called on EaseMyTrip to disregard the “regrettable” comments that led to the controversy and said they “did not reflect sentiments of Maldivians in general.”

In a post on X on Monday, Maldives Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer called the officials’ remarks “unacceptable,” and said his country is committed to “fostering a positive and constructive dialogue with our partners.”

“The government of Maldives can’t afford to have a spat with India, and it will be an economic suicide. Everybody should see this,” said Shaheed.


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