By: Dr. GULBIN SULTANA, Analyst on Indian Ocean Region
President-Elect of the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives Abdulla Shahid, visited New Delhi recently, at the invitation of External Affairs Minister of India Dr. S Jaishankar.
On his first official visit abroad as President of General Assembly (PGA)-elect, Abdulla Shahid shared his vision for UNGA Presidency through a virtual public address titled “Presidency of Hope: COVID Pandemic and Need for Reformed Multilateralism” at the Indian Council of World Affairs premises at Sapru House, New Delhi. During the visit, Abdulla Shahid paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held talks with External Affairs Minister Jaishankar on key international, multilateral, regional and bilateral issues of mutual interest. Though the visit focused on his term as President at the UNGA with effect from September this year, Mr. Shahid discussed bilateral relations and development cooperation with the Indian leaders and media during the visit. A renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Indian grant assistance for implementation of High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDP) through local bodies in the Maldives was also signed during the visit.
The MoU on the HICDP was first signed on 17 March 2019 to set up the framework to support small and effective developmental initiatives implemented through local bodies for economic and social development and improvement of public welfare. The renewed MoU signed during the visit, increases the size of the Indian grant assistance to the HICDP, to 155 million Rufiya (equivalent to approximately US$10 million). Previously, the grant assistance was up to MVR 85 million. Twelve projects are currently underway, under the HICDP grant scheme. In addition to the HICDP, India is providing assistance to the Maldives in terms of loans as well as grants for large infrastructure development projects, budgetary support, currency swap facilities, humanitarian assistance and skills development. During discussion with Mr. Shahid, Prime Minister Modi expressed satisfaction that bilateral projects are progressing well despite the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maldives is a key pillar of India’s Neighbourhood First policy and vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All). In this context, India has given utmost importance to strengthen its political, economic, security, cultural and diplomatic cooperation. The government of Maldives too has reciprocated India’s Maldives policy with its “India-First” policy. Nevertheless, certain campaigns, that are being organised within the Maldives since September last year by a section of the Maldivians, are getting traction among youth on social media.
Indian High Commission in Male expressed its concerns to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives about the negative campaign in local media against India as well as on attack on Indian diplomats. Minister Shahid had immediately reacted to Indian High Commission’s complaints and urged the Maldivian media not to spoil relations with a friendly country like India.
Indian assistance and generosity at the time of need including the global pandemic have been hugely appreciated by the Maldivian Government. Reiterating the appreciation of India’s support and assistance, Abdulla Shahid conveyed the good wishes of the people of Maldives and the Solih Government during his meeting with Prime Minister Modi and Dr. Jaishankar.
Further, the visiting Minister also thanked the Indian Government for the support rendered to the Maldives candidacy for the Presidency of the 76th session of the UNGA. Minister Shahid briefed the Indian Prime Minister on his vision- “Presidency of Hope”- as President of the upcoming UNGA.
Outlining his vision and his priorities, Mr. Shahid spoke in detail about his five “rays of hope”: Recovering from COVID19, Rebuilding Sustainably, Responding to the Needs of the Planet, Respecting the Rights of All, and Reforming the United Nations. Mr. Shahid highlighted the importance of multilateralism in general, and the United Nations in particular, in building a more resilient, stronger world.
The Maldivian Foreign Minister noted that the concept of “reformed multilateralism” put forward by Prime Minister Modi during his statement at the General Debate of the 75th session of the UNGA, highlighted all the facets he mentioned in his “Presidency of Hope”. Therefore, he looked for India’s support in his vision. Prime Minister Modi assured Abdulla Shahid about India’s full support and cooperation during his Presidency.
The visit of the PGA-elect is being considered by Indian leaders as an important one as it provided an opportunity to exchange views with him on several global challenges that the UN needs immediate attention to. India also reiterated its abiding commitment to multilateralism and to the UN’s leadership in confronting the global challenges.