India’s growing influence in the Maldives


By Nasir Zaman

ON 26th December 2020, the Maldives’ capital city of Male’ experienced its biggest political rally in the past two years. The Progressive Congress Coalition held one of its biggest rallies in the absence of their leader, the former President Abdulla Yameen against incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
Speaking at the rally, Opposition Vice-President and Parliamentarian Mr. Mohamed Saeed made the startling revelation that during his tenure as the Minister for Economic Development during President Abdulla Yameen’s administration; intelligence reports were received indicating a foreign-funded plan to assassinate then-President Abdulla Yameen. Though he did not directly state which state was behind the alleged assassination attempt, it is speculated that he was referring to India as incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration’s ties with India are growing closer day by day with its “India First” foreign policy.
Youth rallies have been staged across the Maldives against growing foreign influence from India as President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration stacks up debt from India in the form of sovereign loans labeled as Line-of-Credit. At this point, it is unclear exactly how much debt has been incurred by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration but official records show that the majority of debt owed by the Government of Maldives is now to India and originating under President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration.
This has led to the public’s frustration as calls to reveal the details of these debts and allegations against President Solih of facilitating an “Indian Debt Trap” are rampantly growing within the Maldives. Furthermore, the allegations of the current Maldivian Government being a “Puppet-State” of India is further fuelled by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration’s reluctance to reveal the details of debts and military agreements with India.
In the past two years, support for the opposition Progressive Congress Coalition and the former President Abdulla Yameen has considerably grown while support for incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his government has dwindled even within his own Maldives Democratic Party. It is speculated that the growing frustrations against President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration stem from his failing economic policies along with the lack of trust in its judicial system.
Calls for judicial reform have been made by the opposition alliance as public trust in the judicial system is at its lowest following the incarceration of the opposition leader and former President Abdulla Yameen on 28th November 2019. The allegations against the ruling party of consolidating the constitutional powers for influencing the Maldivian judiciary is in part fuelled by the erratic and unusual decision made by the judiciary with President Abdulla Yameen’s case.
Further unrest within the island nation stems from poor economic planning as the country’s GDP drops quarter by quarter since 2019 following President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration taking a hold of the nation. The weak economic policies along with the failure to procure foreign investors have meant that the once-booming economy is now experiencing a massive recession as unemployment and homelessness have reached an all high in Maldivian history.
According to the Maldivian Government, under President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration, an estimated 9.5% of its population has lost their source of income while the nation’s local currency has lost its value as the U.S dollar rate within the Maldives has increased by 29.7%. The rise in joblessness has caused an increase in crime with the United States Overseas Security Advisory Council stating that in 2019, crime within the Maldives reached its highest level since 2014 as crime increased by 39% in 2019 compared to that of 2018.
Furthermore, as the number of mysterious deaths and disappearances considerably increase, calls for justice have been raised within the island nation. However, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration is yet to address the mysterious deaths and disappearances occurring under his administration. However, the economic recession currently being experienced by the Maldives is not solely borne by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s economic policies, but also by his foreign policy of “India first”.
Rampant lawlessness within the Indian Ocean has meant that foreign fishing vessels are frequently illegally fishing within the Maldivian seas without any consequences. Moreover, local fishermen are forced to sell their fish under market price as the government’s alleged mismanagement of state owned fisheries companies scrambles on the brink of bankruptcy.The scale of frustration amongst the 30,000 Maldivian fishermen was seen on 10th December 2020. On this day, dozens of large fishing vessels gathered near a lagoon near the capital Male’ city to protest against President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. The nation’s largest protest by fisherman, the dozens of vessels protests on the sea as Maldivian Coast Guard barred them access to the capital city.
– The author is a Research Intern at Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad.