NEW DELHI: India will show, with expansive gestures, that it will support Maldives and its new president next week.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will complete his neighbourhood circuit when he travels to the Maldives for Ibrahim “Ibu” Solih’s inauguration, Maldives being the only South Asian country which Modi has not yet visited.
Although the visit is yet to be announced, PM’s official advance teams have already reached Male to begin preparations.
Modi’s presence will have a significant impact because it will signal not only that India wants to put the past rancour behind and support the new government, it is also intended to serve as a vote of confidence to Inu Solih himself. Solih invited Modi to his swearing-in when the latter called to congratulate him.
Like Maithripala Sirisena in Sri Lanka, Solih is a newbie, even though he has been in parliament for a long time, one of the founding members of MDP. Solih’s continuation and success will be a delicate game of balancing two hitherto irreconcilable politics — of Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. This apart from the fact that former president Abdulla Yameen plans to remain in opposition.
Nasheed landed in Male after the courts suspended his sentence determined to recover some of his lost political space. Gayoom too hopes to play a large role in the Maldives back from a prison sentence. Sources in Male said Solih will probably include Gayoom’s daughters Dunya and Yumna and Faris in his government.
Solih, therefore, needs all the support he can get.
India is ready to go back into the Maldives, and even ready to do things a little differently, as the government had concluded after several meetings on how to recalibrate Indian presence in the island country.
For starters, India wants to reactivate all the projects that had been stalled or blocked by Yameen. These not only include infrastructure and other public sector projects, but in the past few years, Indian private sector has lost confidence in investing in the Maldives. A prime ministerial presence, the government reckons, might give it that shot in the arm. Maldives had also slowed down business approvals by Indian companies, visas for Indian workers etc. Those are expected to be reversed.
As a first step, India this week helped to bring Maldives into the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) during last week’s meeting in South Africa. The next step would be to reactivate the Indian Ocean trilateral comprising India, Sri Lanka and Maldives (Mauritius and Seychelles had been added as observers later). That mini lateral holds a lot of security potential since it had been designed as a close grouping of Indian Ocean countries.
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