Maldives Counters Indian Hostility Post-President Dr. Muizzu's Beijing Trip
Following his photoshoot in the Indian Islands in the Laccadive Sea, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sparked controversy among some members of the Maldivian ruling party, who viewed his visit to Lakshwadeep and promotion of the destination as an open threat to the tourism sector of Maldives. This came at a time when the President, Dr. Muizzu, had just departed Maldives for a state visit to China.
Three deputy ministers in the Maldivian government made derogatory comments about the Indian Prime Minister, likely fueled by the “India Out” movement, however they were swiftly suspended and their comments marked as personal opinion which do not reflect the views of the Maldivian government.
These comments resulted in a wide scale attack on Maldives in various forms, despite the condemnation of the remarks by the government. Aside from calls by Indians to boycott Maldives as a tourism destination, Maldives institutions faced cyber attacks, and Indian media and individuals attempted to tarnish the reputation of the Maldives through smear campaigns.
Social Media Boycott Calls
Many in the Indian community began to call for a boycott of Maldives tourism, advocating for Indians to visit Lakshwadeep instead. This was echoed by Bollywood actors, such as Akshay Kumar and Ranveer Singh, who shared pictures of what they believed to be Lakshwadeep online, however those pictures were revealed to be of Maldives. This evolved into the CEO of EaseMyTrip, a booking agency in India, and the Confederation of All India Traders to call for a boycott of business in Maldives.
Although, these calls appeared to be short lived, as the tourist arrivals in the first few weeks of 2024 saw many Indian tourists arrive on the Costa Serena cruise liner. Therefore, it can be seen that the attempt to reduce Indian tourism in Maldives has thus far not had the desired effect.
Cyber Attacks by Indian Groups
In the last two weeks, Maldivian institutions have faced cyber security threats from Indian groups online, with the Juvenile Court’s website being infiltrated by a group that identified themselves as “Team Network9.” This group self identified as “Bharatiya Hackers,” who stated explicitly that their attack was a result of the comments made by the deputy ministers. This attack came after the Maldivian Government’s statement regarding the comments by those, showing a concerted effort to disrupt government services in Maldives despite efforts to mend the relationship between the two countries.
Instances of Indians on social media attempting to undermine the reputation of the Maldives were exposed by AFP reporter Uzair Rizvi, who revealed some accusations to be from Indonesia, rather than Maldives as was claimed. These smear tactics were carried out in unison with the calls for a boycott of the Maldives.
The collective effort from various ends of Indian society to disparage the image of Maldives and damage its economy came as President Dr. Muizzu had left for China. During his campaign for presidency, Dr. Muizzu had taken part in the “India Out” movement in Maldives, as the local population called for the removal of Indian military personnel. These events coinciding suggests a deeper involvement from the Indian ruling class, attempting to punish the Maldives for its refusal to bend to India’s will and for shifting away from the “India-First” policy that was held by the previous administration.
The current government has made plans to shift away from dependence on India, with a multitude of agreements having been signed during the President’s state visit to China. The support received from China is accompanied by the Government’s decision to move away from reliance on India for domestic necessities, medicine and means of medical evacuation. The Government has announced that they will expand the national health insurance, Aasandha, to cover medical expenses in Thailand and Dubai, which includes covering the cost of accommodation. In terms of food items, Maldives has reached an agreement with Turkey to cover the supply of staple food items for one year, and an additional 10%. Finally, the government plans to import medical supplies from other nations, including those in Europe, which promises to offer a wider variety of pharmaceuticals and ultimately help to reduce the country’s reliance on India in all of the aforementioned areas.
Therefore, it can be seen that these moves have triggered a response from Indian leadership, who have instigated a retaliation attempt against the Maldives for its move away from India. However, Dr. Muizzu has stated that he and his government will stand firm in their plans, that “we may be small, but that doesn’t give you the license to bully us.”