Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu on the sidelines of the United Nations climate summit in Dubai and agreed to set up a core group to carry forward the relationship, leading to speculation that Muizzu has gone soft on his demand that all Indian military personnel in Maldives leave the archipelago nation.
On November 19, a day after Muizzu was sworn in as President, he had demanded that India take back its troops stationed in the archipelago nation, in line with his campaign promise. Also, breaking with tradition of former Presidents of Maldives, who always visited India after assuming office, Muizzu preferred to visit Türkiye. Going by the optics from the visit, it appears that Muizzu was received well. The two Islamic nations agree on most contemporary issues in the world, while India and Maldives differ widely on Israel’s war on Gaza.
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi posted on X (formerly Twitter) on December 1 after the meeting between Modi and Muizzu: “PM congratulated President Muizzu on his assumption of office. Both leaders reviewed the wide-ranging bilateral relations between the two countries including people to people linkages, development cooperation, economic relations, climate change and sports. The two leaders also discussed ways to further deepen their partnership. In this regard, they agreed to set up a core group.”
The Maldivian President’s office too put out a similar press statement. Both statements did not speak about the withdrawal of all Indian troops from the country. This was not lost on his supporters back home, a few of who posted pictures of Muizzu in a “India Out” T-shirt, while a local journalist wondered why the President did not “mention removing the 77 Indian soldiers in Maldives”. The social media backlash against Muizzu continues in Maldives.
A member of the opposition Adhaalath party claimed that “Indiaout campaign was the biggest scam carried out on Maldivian soil”. Another Maldivian pointed out that while Muizzu had promised to throw out Indian troops in a week, as of right now, 14 days had passed since the new government took office. “Thus far, neither an Indian military facility nor any Indian military presence has been identified or eliminated,” the Maldivian said.
At the time of publishing this, unusually, Mohamed Muizzu’s handle or his campaign handle, which have followed his visit to the climate summit, had not posted anything about the meeting. Maldivian Foreign Minister Mossa Zameer, who posted on X that he had accompanied Muizzu to the meeting with the Indian Prime Minister, said that “the President and Prime Minister exchanged views on issues of concern to our people, and enhancing the Maldives-India relationship based on mutual respect”.
From the three statements issued after the meeting—one from the Indian side, another from the Maldivian President’s side, and the last one from the Foreign Minister—the only hint that the demand on Indian troops had come up was this sentence from Zameer. However, given that the approved text put out by both sides did not make a mention of this issue, it appears that Modi had conveyed the Indian stand on the matter.
One Indian security expert, who did not want to be named, was of the view that Muizzu’s demand needs to be accommodated since it was a campaign promise. If India hardened its stand, this might weaken Muizzu’s position ahead of the next Parliamentary elections in Maldives. There was no need to precipitate this issue at this point because India had to work with both the elected parliament [majlis] as well as the President, who appoints ministers to the cabinet.
“Even if Muizzu is not pro-India at this point, giving him a face-saving formula will ensure that he does not turn anti-India,” he said, and added that India should prioritise its strategic security in the region, instead of wanting to be seen as a bully to cater to a local narrative ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Muizzu also met Chinese First Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang on the sidelines of the climate summit. Unlike the meet with the Indian Prime Minister, this appeared to have been a hurriedly arranged one, in which both leaders exchanged notes standing in a room, while the delegations which followed both leaders crowded around them. A post on X merely mentioned that the two leaders met, but there were no details revealed about what was discussed.