A tourism-related diplomatic feud between India and the Maldives escalated on Monday as a major Indian travel agency stopped flight bookings to the archipelagic nation and India summoned the Maldivian envoy while promoting its domestic beach destinations.
The dispute stems from antagonistic comments made by three Maldivian ministers about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week, but has been simmering since the new president in the Maldives — which is heavily dependent on tourism from India — took office last year.
The deputy Maldivian ministers called Modi a “clown,” “terrorist,” and “puppet of Israel” on social media, after speculating that his trip to India’s Lakshadweep archipelago — during which he visited picturesque beaches and snorkeled — was a challenge to Maldivian tourism. The three have reportedly been suspended as the Maldivian government tried to distance itself from their comments.
India and the Maldives have historically had close ties
Following the insulting comments about Modi, Indian celebrities and officials called for a boycott of trips to the Maldives, and instead promoted India’s islands. After the Indian Chamber of Commerce asked travel and tour agencies to stop booking trips there, large booking platform EaseMyTrip suspended all its Maldives flight bookings on Monday. It’s a marked shift from the “close and cordial” ties India and the Maldives have historically shared; Indians topped the Maldives’ tourist arrival figures last year, and India has been its “perfect neighbour” for decades in sectors beyond tourism, including infrastructure, defense, and disaster recovery, according to India Today.
Modi’s trip to Indian island destination kicked off latest row
Modi’s visit to Lakshadweep was more than just a New Year’s beach trip: In recent months, he’s urged Indians to choose domestic destinations for vacations and weddings. His address in Lakshadweep was also seen as a way for the prime minister to woo the Muslim-majority population there ahead of this year’s elections. Lakshadweep isn’t close to being an alternative to the Maldives, the Indian Express wrote in an editorial, and much of the reaction on Indian social media was over the top and exposed “hypernationalism on both sides.” Instead of boycotting, India should “double down on a firm but patient engagement with Maldives.”
Maldives’ ties to China contributed to diplomatic dispute
Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu had an “India out” election pledge last year that pushed for the removal of the roughly 75 Indian military troops based in the Maldives. Both China and India are vying for influence in the Maldives, and Muizzu is seen as having a more pro-China tilt. He arrived in China on Monday for a multiple-day visit, breaking from the tradition of Maldivian leaders making New Delhi their first international destination. A New Delhi-based analyst told Reuters that Muizzu “seems disinclined to continue engaging India,” adding that “his actions seem directed at creating distance between Male and Delhi.” The close China ties, he said, should be “concerning to India.”