Rising Tides of Controversy: Navigating the India-Maldives Spat

The latest controversy between India and the Maldives primarily revolves around a series of events that have strained the diplomatic relations between the two nations. The controversy was ignited by negative remarks made by three deputy ministers in the Ministry of Youth Affairs in the Maldives about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These remarks were made in response to Modi’s visit to Lakshadweep and were perceived as a challenge to the Maldivian tourism industry, which is renowned for its beachside amenities.

The Indian government raised this issue with the Maldives, resulting in the suspension of the three ministers by the Maldivian government.

Adding to the tension, the new President of the Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, who assumed power in November 2023, has taken a stance that contrasts sharply with the pro-India policies of his predecessors. Muizzu’s election campaign included an “India Out” slogan, and he has expressed a desire to expel Indian troops from the country, citing concerns over the Maldives’ independence and sovereignty. This shift in foreign policy has been marked by Muizzu’s decision to make his first state visit to China, breaking with the tradition of visiting India first.

The public reaction in both countries has been significant. In India, celebrities, sportspersons, and business founders have responded by advocating for Indian tourism destinations over the Maldives. High-profile Indian celebrities have made public statements on social media, urging their followers to “explore Indian islands”. Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, for instance, expressed his sentiment by stating that while Indians are good to their neighbours, they should not tolerate unprovoked hate. He highlighted the significance of Indian tourism to the Maldives and called for support of Indian tourism.

The controversy also sparked a broader social media movement among Indian netizens. Many users have shared posts promoting domestic destinations over the Maldives. This wave of nationalistic sentiment has been fuelled by the online debate and the perceived slight against India and its Prime Minister. The response has extended into the business sector as well, exemplified by the suspension of flight bookings to the Maldives by major Indian travel agencies like EaseMyTrip. This is significant, given that tourism is the Maldive’s largest foreign exchange earner, with India being one of the top sources of tourists.