Indian military presence, a threat to Maldives’ sovereignty?

A helicopter provided by India to the Maldives. The helicopter is operated by Indian military personnel. Photo: Sun Online

The country which aided the island nation to preserve its freedom in 1988 is now being considered a risk 

By: Shafna Hussain

Male’, Maldives: India’s influence has always been dominant in the Maldives for its long-standing strategic relationship. However, the influence has become a matter of concern for the public, mainly for the opposition, because of the increasing number of Indian military personnel in South Asia’s smallest nation. 

India dispatched troops of para-commandos to the Maldives on November 3, 1988, to counter the attempted coup d’état. The Maldives’ people welcomed Indian soldiers with open arms then, however, their presence has started stirring conflict. 

Indian army officials in the Maldives on November 3, 1988. Photo: Haveeru

After the para brigade left in 1988, the Indian military landed in the Maldives in 2013 bearing “gifts” – two military aircraft. More than 50 Indian military personnel are in the Maldives to operate the two helicopters and for technical assistance, however, the number is believed to be much higher. 

The Defense Ministry has refused to disclose the exact number citing national security concerns and diplomatic ties that may be disrupted.

Though the helicopters were donated to the Maldives, and despite the availability of local pilots, the aircrafts are being operated by Indian military personnel to this day. Moreover, India donated a Dornier aircraft recently. With the new aircraft came more soldiers. 

The military aircraft donated by India to the Maldives. Photo: MNDF

This has led to criticism and concerns. The opposition political parties describe the presence of Indian army personnel in the Maldives as a threat to the sovereignty of the nation. 

To oppose the Indian military presence in the Maldives, a youth-led “India Out” campaign has hit social media as well as the streets. The campaign has gone viral on social media and irked the pro-Indian government. The Youth Movement of Maldives has organized peaceful protests and motorbike rallies to voice their concerns. 

Indian soldiers partying in Hanimaadhoo ?
Speaking about the truth Dear @sunjaysudhir, was any alcohol involved ? If so are they disciplined enough to not do what they do in Uttat Pradesh here ?
And finally why are soldiers on active duty partying like this ?#IndiaOut

— DhivehiMusafir (@DhivehiMusafir) November 14, 2020

Did you forget the 40+ Indian soldiers who came with the dornier? @MariyaDidi #IndiaOut

— Ahmed Azaan (@axanner) November 14, 2020

Outrageous claim by the worst politician ever known to be the president. He said Maldivians were involved in 2008 Mumbai terror attack, again a lie. He’s an Indian agent, creating tensions between China and Maldives. He’s the guy who gave Hulhule Airport to GMR of India #IndiaOut

— Dr. Radhun Alex🎈 (@AlexRadhun) November 19, 2020

However, the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) has rebuked these allegations. 

India and Maldives have a strong bond that dates decades. But the air shifted after a series of events in recent years. BJP’s advocacy for a forceful intervention in Maldives’ domestic affairs and potential military intervention is one such event. 

Former president, leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party, and the current Speaker of the Parliament Mohamed Nasheed also called for the deployment of Indian troops to Maldivian soil in 2018. These events added fuel to the anti-Indian fires. 

The Maldives being an integral part of India’s regional security grid, India cannot afford to lose its foothold in the Maldives with its geostrategic competition with China. 

The Maldives might be a tiny island nation but, it is significant to both India and China. China had funded huge infrastructure projects in the Maldives during President Abdulla Yaameen’s administration, which infuriated India. And when Ibrahim Mohamed Solih took office in 2018, India hoped to rebuild the relationship and gain back the edge they lost to China. 

However, Solih might try to make work on his relationship with China to overcome the dent in the tourism-dependent economy. 

The Maldives situated at the epicenter of the emerging game between China and India has strategic leverage to compensate for the lack of resources. With such great powers at play, could Indian military presence in the Maldives be something more than just assistance?