Last Saturday, Mohammed Muizzu won the presidential election in Maldives. Mohammed Muizzoo is the leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) coalition and is known for its close relations with China.
This alliance had openly supported Chinese loans and investments in the past.
With his victory, speculations had intensified that the attitude of Maldives, which till now has been following the ‘India First’ policy of current President Ibrahim Mohammad Solih, would change and this could become a problem for India.
However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Muizzu on his victory and talked about increasing cooperation between the two countries in future.
Congratulating Muizzu on Twitter, PM Modi wrote, “Congratulations and best wishes to Dr. Mohammed Muizzu on being elected President of Maldives. India is committed to strengthening bilateral relations with Maldives and enhancing our overall cooperation in the Indian Ocean region.
But now Mohammad Muizzu has given such a statement, which was being feared.
He has said that he is sticking to his election promise and will remove the Indian Army from the Maldives Archipelago.
According to news agency AP, at an event organized to celebrate his victory on Monday, Muizzu told his supporters, “I am not in favor of the presence of foreign troops in the Maldives against the will of the citizens.”
He said, “The common people have told us through the election results that they do not want the presence of foreign troops here.”
He assured his supporters that as soon as his government starts functioning, it will start working towards removing foreign forces from Maldives.
According to Maldives’ local media newspaper Awas, Muizzu also said that the withdrawal of foreign forces will be done as per the set rules and those whose cooperation is necessary will be included in this process.
Muizzu reiterated that if the people of Maldives do not want foreign soldiers then they cannot stay in Maldives.
However, Muizzu did not take the name of any country while talking about the presence of foreign forces in Maldives. But during his election campaign he had mentioned the presence of the Indian Army in Maldives.
Their alliance PPM-PNC had raised the slogan “India Out” against the alleged Indian military presence in Maldives and had also organized several protests.
According to AP, their main campaign was based on the belief that the presence of Indian troops is a threat to the sovereignty of Maldives.
In response to this campaign, President Solih had said that the Indian Army is deployed there for the construction of a dockyard, these forces are in Maldives due to the agreement between India and Maldives.
There is no information about the number of Indian soldiers in Maldives.
Critics say that the secrecy behind the agreement between the two governments regarding the role of the Indian Army gave rise to suspicions and rumors about the Indian Army.
I am ‘Pro-Maldives’- Mohammed Muizzoo
Last Saturday, when Mohammad Muizzu won by defeating Mohammad Solih in the run-off, all the major newspapers of the world called his victory as the victory of a ‘pro-China’ leader.
Muizz has responded by calling his foreign policy pro-China.
He has said that the policy of our government will be ‘for the benefit of Maldives’ and we will improve our relations with every country which will respect our policy.
Maldives’ changing foreign policy
The year 2008 saw a major change in the foreign policy of Maldives. Mohammed Nasheed led a movement that ended the rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008.
During Gayoom’s administration, there was no practice in Maldives’ foreign policy of openly expressing support for the country. Maldives adopted a balanced policy.
Before this, Maldives had never openly criticized any country. But Nasheed criticized China from forums and on social media.
He continued to maintain his anti-China stance.
When Abdullah Yameen came to power in 2013, he followed the tradition of an assertive foreign policy but his inclination was towards China.
He severed ties with the Commonwealth, accusing it of interference in the domestic affairs of Maldives. He sided with Saudi Arabia in the conflict with Qatar and broke relations with Qatar.
In the year 2018, Maldives’ foreign policy again turned towards India. India and Maldives again came closer as soon as current President Ibrahim Mohammed Solih came to power.
According to the Sun report, Maldives is highly dependent on India in all areas, whether it is infrastructure development or health and education, Maldives takes India’s help in these areas.
But experts also believe that despite being close to India, the Ibrahim Mohammad Solih government has not been an opponent of any country.
Ibrahim Mohammed Solih restarted Maldives’ relations with the Commonwealth. Maintained better relations with China and established diplomatic relations with many countries.
Why is Maldives important for India?
Maldives is a very important strategic destination for China. The sea in which Maldives is strategically located is very important. China’s presence in Maldives is part of its strategy in the Indian Ocean. In 2016, Maldives gave a 50-year lease of an island to a Chinese company for just 4 million dollars.
On the other hand, Maldives is no less important for India. Maldives is very close to India and if China establishes a foothold there, it is natural for India to be worried. Maldives is about 700 kilometers away from Lakshadweep of India and 1200 kilometers from the mainland of India.
In adverse circumstances, it will become easier for China to keep an eye on India from Maldives. Maldives has signed a free trade agreement with China. This was also a surprising step for India. This makes it clear how far Maldives is from India and how close it is to China.
In 1988, Rajiv Gandhi saved the government of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom by sending the army. When the tsunami hit in 2004, the first plane from India arrived with help.
What kind of coverage on Muizzu’s victory abroad?
In China, Mohammad Muizzu’s victory is being described as a ‘blow to India and America’.
At the same time, Beijing Daily has written, ‘These election results are a shock for India.’
Al Jazeera, in its coverage of Maldives election results, described the victory of the ‘pro-China’ leader.
The article said that Saturday’s vote was being closely watched by India and China, both of whom want to increase their influence in the Indian Ocean and the new government of Maldives will influence this.
Muizzu’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)-led coalition, while in power from 2013-2018, had adopted China’s Belt and Road Initiative, borrowing millions of dollars from China to build key infrastructure.
Describing this victory as a blow to India’s foreign policy, the American newspaper Washington Post wrote, “The voting in Maldives has once again exposed the bitter rift between the pro-India and pro-China camps in Asia’s smallest country. This island country of the Indian Ocean holds special importance for India and China. “This country is strategically important for both trade and security.”
The New York Times, in its coverage of this victory, wrote – It is not a new thing for China and India to have a government with such a change in policy in Maldives. Before this, China remained close to Maldives and gave a loan of millions to Maldives through the Belt and Road Initiative. Under the current power, India has strengthened itself there.
In the last ten years, India has given two helicopters and one small aircraft to Maldives. In the year 2021, Maldives Defense Force had said that 75 Indian military officers live in Maldives and operate and maintain Indian aircraft.
During the Corona epidemic, India had given Covishield vaccine as a gift to Maldives. India’s trade with Maldives was more than 500 million dollars last year.
This year, when the foundation stone of Hanimadhoo International Airport was laid in Maldives, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was also present in the ceremony. After this, in May, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh also paid a three-day visit to Maldives.