Amidst the global pandemic, India’s development assistance continues to help neighbouring countries to address their specific socio-economic needs. India provided outdoor fitness equipment for 61 islands of Maldives this week. The equipment provided was part of India’s grant assistance for socio-economic development projects across Maldives announced in March 2019 during the visit of President Mohammed Ibrahim Solih to India. India had agreed to provide, ‘grant assistance of US$ 5.5 million, for the Implementation of High Impact Community Development Projects through local bodies and a cash grant of US$ 6.9 million for implementation of socio-economic development projects’.
Speaking on the occasion, the Speaker of Maldives Parliament, Mohammed Nasheed underscored the importance of Maldives relations with India. He said Maldives “cannot grow and develop if it abandons close relationship with India” and urged the other leaders to make sensible and wise decisions while dealing with closest allies and neighbours such as India”. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdulla Shahid said the “project has the potential to revitalise the strong bonds of community and kinship amongst the island communities and help in promoting healthy lifestyle”. The project, having ‘widest geographical reach and beneficiaries among grant projects’ is expected to help India to reach out to the population living in Islands along with the Government of Maldives. India is also planning to assist in developing children’s parks across 68 Islands of Maldives in four months’ time, another endeavour that can reach out to most of the Islands.
The socio-economic development of Atolls has been an important election pledge of the government of President Mohammed Ibrahim Solih and efforts are being made in this direction with India’s grant assistance. After the change of government in Maldives in November 2018, there is a visible shift in bilateral relations between India and Maldives. High level visits helped in re-invigorating the bilateral relation. India announced financial assistance of $ 1.4 billion and new line of development work under the $800 million line of credit. Convergence of interests and outlook is a plus point in bilateral relations in recent years. Implementation of agreed projects amid the global pandemic also underscores the deep ties between the two countries.
Maldives is battling to control the spread of coronavirus. Maldives has reported more than 2,800 confirmed cases. Reaching out to people in around 1,000 islands of Maldives which are spread in the Indian Ocean is a difficult task and the Government of Maldives has taken various initiatives at the governmental and community levels to handle the health crisis. The Islands’ main sources of revenue is the tourist attractions.
India has been the first respondent to natural disasters in Maldives. In January 2020, it provided 30,000 doses of Measles vaccine to Maldives on an emergency basis. After the COVID-19 outbreak India sent medical assistance to Maldives in May 2020 along with 600 tons of food supplies as part of mission “Sagar’. Maldives participated in South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders meeting to discuss the pandemic faced by the region.
President Solih highlighted the economic impact the Island will have to face, owing to dependence on tourism and exports. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) estimated that the global trade is going to fall between, 13 % to 32% in 2020. Maldives economy in particular is vulnerable to disturbance in world trade and commerce. Therefore, the International Monitory Fund (IMF) approved the disbursement of US$ 28.9 million, under Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) to help cover the balance of payments and fiscal needs.
There are also reports of India setting up an air bubble or air travel bridge with Maldives that can help in tourism revenue to Maldives. Maldives is also considering reprioritizing and strategizing the foreign policy to minimize the effects of global pandemic on its economy. It will look at more avenues for enhancing trade and investment. India would try to help Male gain maximum leverage by speedy implementation of agreed projects in the Island nation. The global pandemic scenario, confrontation between the big powers and bilateral tensions between India and China are other factors that may determine the cooperation between India and Maldives.
Script: Dr. M Samatha, Strategic Analyst on Indian Ocean Region