India, Maldives aim at further deepening ties

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The implementation of visa-free entry in Feb 2022 for Indians arriving in the Maldives for business purposes further recognises the growing commercial partnership…reports Asian Lite News

India and Maldives enjoy historical ties which is getting stronger in the modern era.

It is believed the earliest settlers in the Maldives, who had moved there in the 5th century BCE, were probably ethnic Sinhalese and Dravidian Buddhists from modern Sri Lanka and South India. Maldives, too, like India, has been subjected to prolonged colonial rule and exploitation. The Maldives is located very close to the western coast of India, about 70 nautical miles away from Minicoy. Its position at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean endows it with strategic importance to India.

It is a member of the Commonwealth, like India. So it was no wonder India recognized the Maldives soon after its independence in 1965 and established diplomatic relations with the country.

India-Maldives relations extend to many areas and are free of politically contentious issues. Decades ago, India had claimed authority over Minicoy Island, which the Maldives conceded in 1976. India is currently seen as a net provider of security, a role which in the Maldives is well-recognized. India’s military assistance during the attempted coup of 1988 was instrumental in building trust. Beneficial was the prompt withdrawal of the Indian forces when their services were no longer required. It went a long way in pre-empting concerns about India’s territorial ambitions in the Maldives.

India was also the first to come to the aid of Maldives during the 2004 Tsunami and the drinking water shortage in Male in Dec 2014.

These three episodes (1988, 2004, and 2014) indisputably established the benefits of India’s proximity and capacity to help Maldives in times of distress.

More recently, in January 2020, India dispatched 30,000 vials of measles vaccine to resist an outbreak in the Maldives. Soon afterwards, India offered comprehensive and rapid assistance to the Maldives during the COVID-19 pandemic. These developments have reinforced India’s credentials as the first responder whenever the Maldives face a significant crisis.

The government and the people of the Maldives widely acknowledge these humanitarian gestures. It is no wonder, therefore, that the incumbent Government of Maldives (GoM) has boldly adopted an India First policy.

Indian Prime Minister Modi, in November 2018, attended the swearing-in ceremony of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as the only Head of State. They held bilateral discussions immediately after the ceremony, during which the Prime Minister communicated India’s desire to work closely for the speedy and effective realization of Maldives’ developmental priorities, especially in infrastructure, health care, connectivity, and human resource development.

India, obviously enough, was the destination for the first overseas visit of President Solih after assuming office. His State Visit to India in Dec 2018 saw India announce a financial assistance package of US$ 1.4 billion. Several infrastructure projects have since started rolling out, with two (Water & Sanitation on 34 islands and Addu Roads projects) already under execution.

More recently, in March 2022, a third project (the Addu Land Reclamation Project) was awarded, and its implementation is due to commence shortly.

President Solih, in April 2019, visited Bengaluru to see the IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings and to observe the facilities at the National Cricket Academy there.

In addition, he held discussions about the development of cricket in the Maldives and strengthening the Maldivian cricket team.

Likewise, the Maldives was the first destination of PM Modi on his first overseas visit since assuming office for his second term. During that visit in June 2019, the Indian PM also addressed a session of the Legislature of the Maldives.

In addition, several MoUs about cooperation and collaboration in domains such as hydrography, healthcare, cargo service by sea, customs capacity building, governance practice, and shipping was signed.

PM Modi and President Solih spoke over the telephone in April 2020 and July 2021, discussing the pandemic situation and India’s humanitarian assistance to the Maldives. Later, president Solih paid an Official Visit to India in Aug 2022.

A 45-member strong delegation, including key Ministers viz Minister of Economic Development, Minister of Finance, and a business delegation, accompanied him. During the visit, President Solih and PM Modi jointly launched the Greater Male Connectivity Project.

The Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP) project is a 6.74 km long bridge and causeway link to connect the capital city Male with the adjoining islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu, and Thilafushi. The India-funded venture is billed as the largest infrastructure initiative in the island nation. The project was expected to stimulate the Maldivian economy by creating jobs and encouraging diverse economic activities.

Most recently, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra visited the Maldives in October 2022. He called on President Solih, Minister of Economic Development Fayyaz Ismail, Speaker Nasheed, Defence Minister Mariya Didi, Minister of Finance, Ibrahim Ameer, and other political leaders in the Maldives.

In addition, he reviewed the bilateral partnership with his Maldivian counterpart Ahmed Latheef. Kwatra also witnessed the exchange of the USD 100 million Supplementary LoC and the transfer of a vessel procured through grant support to the Maldives Correctional Services.

Since 1988, India and Maldives have been steadily cooperating in defence and security. India follows a flexible and accommodating approach in making provisions for Maldives’ defence equipment and training requirements.

The two countries signed a comprehensive Action Plan for Defence in 2016 to consolidate their defence partnership. India has trained over 1400 Maldivian National Defence Forces trainees over the past ten years and offered 300 training vacancies (including SPG, NSG, and MIO training) in 2021- 22.

India has been the largest development partner of Maldives as well. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Male was built with Indian Grant Assistance in 1995. Another grant from India helped complete a major renovation in June 2017.

In addition, several educational institutions, including the Maldives Institute of Technical Education (now called the Maldives Polytechnic), India-Maldives Faculty of Hospitality & Tourism Studies, and the National Centre for Police and Law Enforcement (NCPLE) have been built with Indian aid and assistance. More recently, India has resolved to help Maldives put together a State of Art Cancer Hospital, connecting their 150+ health centres on various islands.

In Oct 2020, the government of Maldives requested a change of location of the Hospital from Hulhumale to Laamu. TATA Memorial Centre (TMC) of India will supervise the execution of the project. It has been formally included under the Line of Credit.

During his visit to India in August 2022, President Solih announced the financial closure of the Cancer Hospital project. India also supports the restoration of Hukuru Miskiiy in Male, known as the Friday Mosque, with a grant of 8.95 crores.

Hukuru Miskiiy, built-in 1658 during the reign of Ibrahim Iskandar I (1648-1687), is one of the oldest and most ornate mosques in the Maldives. Prime Minister Modi announced the restoration project during his address to the Majlis in June 2019.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic caused some delays in commissioning the project. Work finally commenced in March 2021 when a team from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) arrived in Male’.

The EXIM Bank of India supports the redevelopment of airports in Hanimaadhoo and Gan. The government of India has funded the DPRs for both these projects which the Airports Authority of India has prepared.

GoM has awarded the contract for the Redevelopment of Hanimaadhoo in September 2022. India and Maldives signed a trade agreement in 1981, providing for the export of essential commodities.

India-Maldives bilateral trade has since crossed the USD 300 million mark for the first time in 2021, reaching an impressive USD 323.9 million. The bilateral trade increased by over 31 per cent over the previous year.

This is probably a direct result of the launch of the cargo vessel service between the two countries in September 2020 and the commencement of work on three of our Line of Credit (LoC) projects since February 2021.

In addition, the implementation of visa-free entry in Feb 2022 for Indians arriving in the Maldives for business purposes further recognises the growing commercial partnership.

The two countries are now looking forward to exploring new ways and means to both deepen and strengthen their bilateral relationship over the coming years. (ANI)

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