India has again sought to support the Ibu Solih government of Maldives as it faces a tough presidential election this year, with the promise of mega development projects and several other forms of assistance.
During his fourth visit to the island ocean as India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar promised to deliver an international airport to Maldives that is expected to connect the northern part of the island with the rest of the country.
Jaishankar, who concluded his visit to Maldives Thursday, inaugurated a massive expansion project of the Hanimaadhoo International Airport there and also gifted sea ambulances for the Maldivian forces.
“The redevelopment of the Hanimaadhoo International Airport is, first and foremost, a connectivity project that will bridge the gap between the people of northern Maldives and the rest of the world. This project, which I understand is the largest infrastructure investment in the northern Maldives, will open up new international operations from Hanimaadhoo. It will enable direct travel from the Northern atolls for business, medical and other purposes and further intensify people-to-people exchanges,” said Jaishankar.
He also said, “This project will have a truly transformative impact on the economy of the northern Maldives – it will help spur entrepreneurship, growth and employment opportunities, encourage tourism development and strengthen allied sectors, including fisheries and logistics – which are critical for the balanced growth of this region.”
Supporting the Solih government, which has been following ‘India First’ policy since coming to power in 2018, Jaishankar said the Hanimaadhoo International Airport expansion project is “also a great example of the vision of decentralization of the Government of Maldives. In India too, we place emphasis on inclusive and equitable development”.
Helping Maldives Make Its Economy ‘More Robust And Resilient’
Maldives has become a playground of sorts for competition between India and China. The Solih administration continue to remain under pressure owing to a massive Chinese debt due to the loans obtained from Beijing by the previous Maldivian government.
According to Jaishankar, India’s development assistance is enabling Maldives in “building infrastructure, broadening its economic base, and making the economy more robust and resilient”.
“India’s partnership with the Maldives is based on our genuine desire to work together for each other’s welfare and interests … We believe that India’s own development is inseparable from the rest of the world, particularly that of the neighbourhood. Naturally, development cooperation has therefore emerged as a key pillar of our multifaceted partnership with Maldives,” Jaishankar said at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Hanimaadhoo Airport.
India is also involved in the ambitious ‘Greater Male Connectivity Project’ under which a 6.74-km-long bridge and causeway link will be built to connect capital city Male with adjoining islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.
During this visit, Jaishankar also gifted two sea ambulances to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF). Last year India also agreed to provide a second Landing Assault Craft and a replacement ship for the CGS Huravee — an indigenously built Trinkat-class patrol vessel that the Navy gave to the (MNDF). India has also given the MNDF 24 utility vehicles.
“We know that this is a globalized, very interconnected, but also, in many ways, a somewhat volatile world. And today, a lot of our own diplomatic attention is being given to really, I would say, easing global tensions, ensuring that interests of countries like Maldives, whether it is in sustainable growth, green growth, in terms of fragility of our climate, that many of your concerns are also our concerns,” said Jaishankar.
Last year in August, when President Solih visited India, both sides vowed to step up their defence partnership.
While the Solih government had followed the ‘India First’ policy through his tenure, the President and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have also come under fire from the opposition parties, especially the one led by Abdulla Yameen who has been running an ‘India Out’ campaign accusing the incumbent government allowing an Indian military presence in the island nation and being a puppet of New Delhi.
Last December, Yameen was sentenced to 11 years in prison and fined $5 million on charges of corruption and money laundering. However, he still continues to be the Presidential candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives for the 2023 elections.
During the visit, Jaishankar also called on President Solih who said, “Maldives had gained immense benefits under India’s “Neighbourhood First Policy” and assured Maldives’ continued commitment to upholding its India First Policy.”
On Thursday, India also inaugurated a community centre in Maldives.