Script by Dr. Gulbin Sultana, Research Analyst, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
External Affairs Minister of India Dr. S. Jaishankar, accompanied by a delegation of senior officials from the Government of India, made an official visit to the Maldives on the invitation of his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid from February 20-21, 2021. This was Dr. Jaishankar’s second visit to the Maldives in his capacity as the Minister of External Affairs of India. His first visit was to attend the 5th Indian Ocean Conference in September 2019.
The main purpose of the current visit was to review the entire gamut of the bilateral relations and to give further momentum to the renewed dynamism in the India-Maldives relations over the past two years.
During the visit, the Minister called on the President of Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed, and held meetings with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Defense.
Subsequently, he held a joint meeting with the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Economic Development, the Minister of Sports, and the Minister of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure. Stocks were taken on the progress of ongoing bilateral projects including the Greater Male Connectivity Project, Sanitation for 34 islands across the archipelago, Hanimadhoo Airport expansion, development of the Gulifalhu Port, Cricket Stadium at Hulhumalé during the meetings.
Keeping the country’s requirements in mind India’s development assistance to the Maldives are divided into two categories-1) larger loan and grant projects which will contribute significantly to the long-term development of socio-economic infrastructure in the Maldives; 2) High Impact Community Development Project across the length and breadth of the Maldives to have an immediate and positive impact on the lives of the island communities.
To further deepen the relationship, and explore new areas of cooperation, several agreements were signed between the two countries during the visit including:
An amendatory agreement for the US $40 million Line of Credit signed in 2011
A US$ 50 million Credit Line Agreement for defence purpose.
A Letter of Intent between Fahi Dhiriulhun Corporation and EXIM Bank of India under Buyer’s Credit scheme to support the design and construction of 2000 social housing units in Hulhumale.
Agreement to develop, support and maintain a Maldives National Defence Force Coast Guard Harbour at Sifvaru.
MoU between Public Service Media of the Maldives and Prasar Bharati of India
MoU between the Ministry of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure of the Maldives and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, India on Sustainable Urban Development.
Maldives is India’s one of the key Maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean Region and occupies a special place in Prime Minister Modi’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). During his address at the Ekuveni Stadium in Maldives, Minister Jaishankar reiterated India’s commitment to support and assist the Maldivians to fulfil their interests and aspirations. In this context, he announced India’s willingness to offer a standalone Line of Credit of US $40 million to support the development of sports infrastructure.
India has been a first responder in difficult situations in Maldives including the COVID pandemic and the post-COVID economic recovery. Since the outbreak of the Corona Virus, India has been consistently assisting the Maldives to deal with the crisis. During the visit, Dr. Jaishankar carried with him 100000 doses of the COVID vaccine as a gift to the people of the Maldives. This was in addition to the 100000 doses donated by India earlier in January.
Reiterating the time-tested friendship, the two foreign ministers reemphasized their commitment to cooperate and support each other at the regional and international multilateral fora on the issues of regional peace and security. In this context, Dr. Jaishankar restated India’s strong support for the candidature of Foreign Minster Abdulla Shahid for President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly next year.
External Affairs Minister of India was warmly welcomed by the Maldivians. It has bee noted by the Maldivians that President Solih’s ‘India-First’ policy has been adequately reciprocated by India’sneighbourhood -first’ and ‘in the neighbourhood the Maldives first’ policy. India’s transparent, fair, objective, competitive and quick implementation of the committed developmental projects and humanitarian and financial assistance at the time of crisis has been widely appreciated by the Maldivians.
Maldivians consider this visit a significant milestone for the development of bilateral relations between two countries. From the Indian perspective, the visit was a testimony to the importance that India attaches to its close and friendly relations with the Maldives.