- Maldives’ Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid has been elected as the President of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for 2021-22.
- India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was amongst the first international persona to congratulate his counterpart Shahid and neighbouring Maldives.
- India was also the first nation to endorse Shahid’s candidacy as early as November last year. So, the development is expected to give a big boost to India-Maldives relationship.
United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)
- Established in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly occupies a central position as the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations.
- Comprised of all 193 Members of the United Nations, it provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter. It also plays a significant role in the process of standard-setting and the codification of international law.
- During its sessions, the Assembly considers current issues of critical importance to the international community in the form of high-level thematic debates organized by the President of the General Assembly, in consultation with the membership.
- The President of the General Assembly is elected each year by assembly to serve a one-year term of office. The presidency rotates annually between the five geographic groups: African, Asia-Pacific, Eastern European, Latin American and Caribbean, and Western European and other States.
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Background of India-Maldives Relationship
- India and Maldives share ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and commercial links steeped in antiquity and enjoy close, cordial and multi-dimensional relations.
- India was among the first to recognise Maldives after its independence in 1965 and to establish diplomatic relations with the country. Since then, India and Maldives have developed close strategic, military, economic and cultural relations.
- India established its mission at the level of CDA in 1972 and resident High Commissioner in 1980.
- The Maldives opened a full-fledged High Commission in New Delhi in November 2004, at that time one of its only four diplomatic missions worldwide.
Areas of Cooperation
- Security Cooperation: For decades, India has remained an all weather friend for Maldives, for security purposes. In 1988, when armed mercenaries attempted a coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, India sent paratroopers and Navy vessels and restored the legitimate leadership under Operation Cactus. Further, joint naval exercises have been conducted in the Indian Ocean and India still contributes to the security of the island nation.
- People To People Contact: Maldivian students attend educational institutions in India and patients fly here for super-speciality healthcare, aided by a liberal visa-free regime extended by India. There is a significant Indian diaspora in the Maldives. About 25% of Doctors and Teachers in Maldives are Indian nationals.
- Disaster Management: The 2004 tsunami and the drinking water crisis in Male in 2014 (Operation Neer launched by India) were the occasions when India rushed assistance. Maldives has been the biggest beneficiary of the Covid-19 assistance given by India under Mission SAGAR. The assistance has been provided in the form of medical equipments, medicines, vaccines, PPE Kits, etc.
- Economic Cooperation: India is Maldives’ 4th largest trade partner after UAE, China and Singapore. In 2018, India was the 5th largest source of tourist arrivals in Maldives. Tourism is the mainstay of Maldivian economy. The country is now a major tourist destination for some Indians and a job destination for others. India has exempted Maldives from export curbs on essential commodities.
Maldives’ Geostrategic Importance for India
- Maldives is geographically positioned like a ‘toll gate’ between the western Indian Ocean and the eastern Indian Ocean.
- Located at the southern and northern parts of this island chain lies the two important sea lanes of communication (SLOCs).
- These SLOCs are critical for maritime trade flow between the Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Hormuz in West Asia and the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia.
- The SLOCs are of vital importance for India since nearly 50% of India’s external trade and 80% of her energy imports transit these westward SLOCs in the Arabian Sea.
- The crucial oil supply coming from Gulf nations to India pass through this area.
- Maldives also plays an integral role in realising the blue economy potential of Indian Ocean being a contributor to the security and sustainable development of resources.
- Political Instability: India-Maldives ties had deteriorated significantly under its President Yameen who was perceived to be close to China. Maldives was the only SAARC country which seemed reluctant to follow India’s call for a boycott of SAARC summit in Pakistan after the Uri attack. Relations are cordial under present Leadership.
- Radicalisation: The number of Maldivians drawn towards terrorist organizations and Pakistan-based jihadist groups has been increasing. This gives rise to the possibility of Pakistan based terror groups using remote Maldivian islands as a launch pad for terror attacks against India and Indian interests.
- Chinese Factor: The growing Chinese influence in the Maldives, consequent upon the planned- or ongoing execution of a large number of Beijing-led investment projects, is a major concern for India. The Maldives has emerged as an important ‘pearl’ in China’s “String of Pearls” construct in South Asia. Maldives has given its Feydhoo Finolhu Island to China on lease till the year 2066. Given the Maldives’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean, there are speculations about China trying to develop strategic bases in the archipelago.
- IndiaOut Campaign: Opposition in Maldives has launched ‘IndiaOut’ Campaign because of the deepening Defence ties between India and Maldives. Not a big campaign, but still, it is an irritant in India-Maldives Relationship.
- It is important for India not to allow the Maldives to slip from its sphere of influence. India should reach out to all governmental and non-governmental actors in economic, socio-cultural and political arenas. India’s strong support to Maldives’ candidature for UNGA Presidency is a right move in this direction.
- India should strengthen people to people ties, and should win the trust of Maldivian citizens to ensure that the ‘IndiaOut’ campaign does not gain momentum.
Source: The Hindu, mea.gov.in, news.un.org