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Strategically located in the Indian Ocean, Maldives archipelago comprising 1,200 coral islands lies next to key shipping lanes which ensure uninterrupted energy supplies to countries like China, Japan and India.
Since China started to send naval ships to Indian Ocean roughly 10 years ago — and right up to Gulf of Aden in the name of antipiracy operations — Maldives’ significance has steadily grown and now it’s at the heart of international geopolitics.
As the pre-eminent South Asian power and a ‘net security provider’ in the Indian Ocean region, India needs to cooperate with Maldives in security and defence sectors.
China’s massive economic presence in Maldives is a major concern for India. With the country now said to owe 70% of its external aid to China, many believe that Yameen has done to Maldives what Rajapaksa did to Sri Lanka. India had to push back at some stage and the current political crisis might just have offered India the right opportunity.
A large section of population which supports the opposition parties like Nasheed’s MDP wants India to act against Yameen.
Maldives is also a member of Saarc. It is important for India to have Maldives on board to maintain its leadership in the region. Maldives was the only Saarc country which seemed reluctant to follow India’s call for boycott of Saarc summit in Pakistan after the Uri attack.
Under Yameen, radicalisation grew rapidly and it was often said that archipelago accounted for one of the highest numbers of foreign fighters in Syria in terms of per capita. India can ill-afford a neighbour which fails to check Islamic radicalisation.
India and Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links. India was among the first to recognise Maldives after its independence in 1965 and later established its mission at Male in 1972.
There are 25,000 Indian nationals living in Maldives (second largest expatriate community). Indian tourists also account for close to 6% of tourists Maldives receives every year.
India is also a preferred destination for Maldivians for education, medical treatment, recreation and business. According to MEA, more and more Maldivians are seeking long term visa for pursuing higher studies/medical treatment in India.