The bilateral relations between India and Maldives are in for a sea change. The newly elected President of the island country Ibrahim Mohammed Solih is likely to undertake his maiden foreign visit to India next month. This clearly indicates that the new Maldivian regime attaches great significance to close strategic and trade relations with India. In fact, the trip may well witness India extending a hand of assistance and Male assuring to safeguard New Delhi’s security interests.
In a pointer towards that, a high level delegation led by the Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid, was on a four- day visit to New Delhi. The visiting delegation held bilateral consultations with External Affairs minister, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj. Mr. Shahid reiterated his government’s “India First” policy and said that his government looks forward to working closely with India on all issues.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a goodwill gesture, had attended the swearing-in ceremony of the Maldivian President Mr. Solih earlier this month in Male. During their meeting, both Mr. Modi and Mr. Solih had vowed to renew close ties between the two countries and agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean Region. The ties between the two countries had deteriorated significantly under the previous regime of Abdullah Yameen due to a number of reasons including imposition of restrictions on work visas for Indians and imposition of emergency there.
Mrs. Swaraj stated that in line with India’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy, India stands ready to support Maldives fully in its socio-economic development. Her Maldivian counterpart also reaffirmed that Male would be sensitive towards India’s security and strategic concerns. India has also welcomed Maldives decision to rejoin the Commonwealth as also its entry into the Indian Ocean Rim Association as its newest member.
Both sides held wide-ranging discussions on strengthening the development partnership between the two countries with India assured the island country of support in implementing its development priorities and for ensuring fiscal and budgetary stability. It is understood that Maldives has urged for a financial package from India to help it wriggle out of its mounting debts.
The two ministers discussed security and defence matters including ongoing projects and new areas of cooperation and agreed to hold the next meeting of Defence Cooperation Dialogue between the two countries in the first fortnight of next month as also the ways and means to expand and diversify the bilateral economic and commercial ties. It was also decided to hold next meeting of the Joint Commission at the foreign ministers level at the earliest.
The visiting Foreign Minister who was accompanied by a high delegation that included Ibrahim Ameer, the Maldivian Finance Minister, Fayyaz Ismail, the Minister of Economic Development, Ahmed Khaleel, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, Foreign Secretary also had a fruitful meeting with India’s Defence Minister Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman. Mr. Shahid also called on the President, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) hosted a business interaction for the Minister and his delegation.
As for the bilateral trade between the two countries, in 2010, India’s exports to Maldives were worth US $ 125.5 million while Indian imports were to the tune of US $ 2.5 million. In 2013, Indian exports were worth US $ 154.0 million and imports were worth US $ 2.3 million only. Up to November, in 2015, India exports amounted to US $ 205.0 million while imports were a meager US $ 1.6 million.
Currently, India has provided US $ 100 million stand-by credit facility (SCF) to Maldives, including long term loans and revolving credit for trade. Under new line of credit worth US $ 40 million offered by India to Maldives, the overseas infrastructure alliance (OIA) of India has been given a contract to construct 485 housing units in Maldives. Indians are the second largest expatriate community in the island nation with an approximate strength of 22,000.
Script: Vinit Wahi, Journalist