Maldivian President’s Visit Rekindles Traditional Friendship

The Maldivian President Mohamed Ibrahim Solih made his maiden State visit to India this week at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. President Solih’s visit came just one month after assuming office. It is being considered as ushering in a ‘new era’ in the bilateral relations between the two countries. Despite using the rhetoric of “India first policy”, the bilateral relations under the former President Abdulla Yameen deteriorated to the lowest point. He was accompanied by Maldives First Lady Fazna Ahmed and a high level delegation comprising of Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer, Planning and Infrastructure Minister Mohamed Aslam, Transport Minister Aishath Nahula, Economic Minister Fayyaz Ismail, senior government officials, and a team of business men.

The visiting President met with President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. In order to improve Maldives’ relations with India, President Solih made use of his three days visit and met high level dignitaries’ and officials of the government of India also.  In his address at the banquet hosted by President Kovind in his honour, Mr. Solih highlighted the importance his administration accords to revise the old friendship with India while fostering new ones.  Prime Minister Modi warmly recalled his recent visit to the Maldives to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President Solih as his special guest. He reiterated the highest importance that India attaches to its relationship with Maldives.

Four agreements were signed between the Government of India and Republic of Maldives following the bilateral talks between President Solih and the Indian Prime Minister at Hyderabad house. This included: agreement of facilitation of visa arrangements; Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cultural cooperation; MoU for establishing mutual cooperation to improve the ecosystem for agri-business and joint declaration of intent on cooperation in the field of information and communication technology and electronics.

Both sides also agreed to create institutional linkages for establishing a framework of cooperation in the areas of health, mutual legal assistance and criminal matters, investment promotion, human resource development and tourism. In this connection Prime Minister Modi offered 1000 scholarships to the Maldivian nationals for training and capacity building in India.

President Solih and Prime Minister Modi also expressed their willingness to safeguard mutual interests in the Indian Ocean Region particularly in the area of maritime security through coordinated patrolling and aerial surveillance, exchange of information and capacity building.  As per the joint statement issued following the delegation level talks, the two leaders reaffirmed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations both within the region and elsewhere”. President Solih reiterated Maldives’ support for India’s candidature for permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council and India’s candidature for non-permanent seat for the year 2020-21 during the bilateral discussions.

Reciprocating the Solih administration’s “India First policy” and the commitment to work together closely with India and reiterating India’s importance to its relationship with the Maldives, India’s Prime Minister announced US$ 1.4 billion financial assistance in the form of budgetary support, currency swap and concessional lines of credit to fulfil socio-economic development programme to the Maldives. Reportedly, India’s lines of credit will carry an interest rate of 1.5 per cent.

One of the important aspects of Mr. Solih’s visit was his meeting with members of the Indian business community at the India-Maldives business forum. During the meeting the Maldivian President assured his full commitment to provide protection and legal cover that overseas investors need to develop business in Maldives. It should be noted that Indian investment in the island was not much encouraged under the former President Yameen Abdulla. In that context President Solih’s meeting has renewed a hope and interest among the business community of India. During his stay in India, President Solih also met the Maldivians living in India and enquired about the challenges faced by them.

Script: Gulbin Sultana, Research Analyst, IDSA