New Delhi: It now seems increasingly likely that Prime minister Narendra Modi will be headed to the Maldives next week to see Maldivian leader Ibrahim Solih take over as the head of the island nation.
An advance team from the Indian government reached the Maldives on Monday to lay the groundwork for Modi to witness the inauguration of Solih’s presidential term on November 17, sources told The Wire.
The visit of the advance team, sources say, caps several weeks of uncertainty over the prime minister’s presence at Solih’s swearing-in.
There is no official word on the visit yet, as the final shape will be given once the dates are locked into Modi’s schedule, which has been busier than usual due to forthcoming elections in five states.
The Wire had earlier reported on the internal discussions that were going on within the government to discuss the proposal for Modi’s visit. There was some uncertainty on the Indian side, as there was a view that the Indian prime minister may not be the main attraction at an event which could see other foreign invitees.
Modi’s trip to the Maldives is much anticipated as it is the only South Asian country that hasn’t featured in his extensive travel itinerary over the last four and a half years.
The Indian prime minister was scheduled to visit the Maldives in 2015, but the visit was cancelled due to a politically volatile situation, with the opposition taking to the streets to protest against president Abdulla Yameen.
With Yameen putting opposition leaders behind bars and navigating his country into China’s orbit, the opportunities for Modi to travel to the Maldives were negligible.
But the results of the presidential elections in September reversed the situation. In an upset, joint opposition candidate Solih defeated incumbent president Yameen with 58% of the votes polled on September 23.
When Modi made the congratulatory call to Solih, the latter invited the Indian leader to the Maldives for the inauguration.
However, there were a lot of considerations which go into the planning for a visit by the Indian prime minister. There was a perception in South Block that Modi could do a more substantial stand-alone bilateral visit to the Maldives after the inauguration. With a lot of high-profile invitees to the inauguration, advice was given that the Indian prime minister may not get enough attention.
But, since the transition to a new and more friendly government in the Maldives is considered crucial for India’s neighbourhood and Indo-Pacific policies, Modi’s presence at the November 17 event is being projected as a necessity.
Just this week, the Maldives became the latest member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) after India pushed for its approval – another indication that India is enthusiastic about dealing with a new government.
Sources also noted that Modi will get a “prime position” among all the invitees to the inauguration.
The organisers of the inauguration ceremony announced on Monday night that the event in the national football stadium would be a closed one, rather than being open to the public as initially proposed.
The justification given by the head of the inauguration committee and chairperson of Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), Hassan Latheef was the need for security due to the presence of several foreign leaders.
He also said that the invitation list was also a long one, which meant that the stadium may not be enough if the ceremony was open to the public.
Modi will certainly have a bilateral meeting with Solih. However, it remains to be seen if he will hold separate meetings with other Maldivian politicians, including former president Mohamed Nasheed.
As per sources, it would also be a quick ‘fly-in, fly-out’ trip to accommodate Modi’s hectic schedule,
There would be more time to prepare ‘deliverables’ for Solih’s visit to India, which would be his first foreign destination as president.
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