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Daily-current-affairs / 11 Oct 2023

The Maldives: Navigating the Path of Democracy and Diplomacy : Daily News Analysis


Date : 12/10/2023

Relevance – GS Paper 2 – International Relations

Keywords – 'India First' policy , BIMSTEC, BRI, MDP

In recent years, the Maldives, South Asia's smallest nation-state comprising 1,192 islands, has emerged as a beacon of democracy in the region. The country's latest presidential election sent a resounding message: democracy is thriving. While some Western media outlets have attempted to frame the election as a geopolitical competition between China and India, the reality is far more nuanced. The Maldivian people, especially the youth, were primarily concerned about their economic well-being, focusing on issues such as employment, housing, tourism, education, and healthcare. Understanding the intricacies of Maldivian politics and the evolving dynamics within the nation is crucial to analyzing the recent election and its implications on the global stage.

Historical Context: A Journey from Autocracy to Democracy

The Maldives has undergone a remarkable transformation from a period of autocratic rule under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to a multiparty democracy established through a new constitution. The nation's first directly elected President, Mohamed Nasheed, ushered in this era of democratic governance. However, Nasheed's term was marked by challenges, leading to power-sharing arrangements and eventual shifts in leadership. The most recent president, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, championed an 'India First' policy during his tenure, focusing on strengthening bilateral ties with India. Despite his commendable efforts, he was recently defeated in the elections, prompting a deep analysis of the factors contributing to his loss.

Analyzing Solih's Defeat: A Complex Interplay of Factors

Several factors contributed to President Solih's defeat in the elections. Firstly, historical trends in Maldivian politics indicate that incumbents rarely secure re-election, as democratic fervor empowers citizens to influence leadership changes. Secondly, internal divisions within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the departure of charismatic leader Mohamed Nasheed played a pivotal role. Nasheed's absence deprived the party of a powerful communicator and strategist, weakening its ability to counter opposition narratives effectively. Lastly, the infusion of geopolitical issues into the domestic campaign further complicated matters, influencing public perception and ultimately shaping the election's outcome.

The Dawn of a New Era:

Following President Solih's defeat, the Maldives is set to witness a transition of power as Mohamed Muizzu, the opposition candidate backed by an alliance of the Progressive Party of Maldives and the People's National Congress, assumes the presidency. His victory signifies a shift in the nation's political landscape. President-elect Muizzu's relationship with his mentor, former President Abdulla Yameen, currently under house arrest, will be closely observed. This dynamic, combined with the evolving regional and global scenarios, will shape the trajectory of Maldivian politics and diplomacy.

Navigating Diplomatic Waters:

The incoming administration faces significant diplomatic choices, particularly concerning its relations with key partners, including India and China. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), once embraced by the Maldives under Yameen's leadership, is facing challenges, altering the geopolitical landscape. Additionally, shifts in India's relationships with Gulf States and Pakistan are influencing regional dynamics. The Maldives must carefully balance its foreign policy to safeguard its interests and maintain stability in the region.

India's Role and Responsibilities:

For India, the evolving political scenario in the Maldives presents both challenges and opportunities. The strong historical and cultural ties between the two nations provide a robust foundation for collaboration. India has been actively involved in developmental projects in the Maldives, fostering goodwill among the Maldivian people. To further strengthen these ties, India can focus on enhancing regional cooperation through initiatives like the Colombo Security Conclave, emphasizing maritime security and the development of the Blue Economy. Additionally, active engagement with regional organizations like BIMSTEC can provide a platform for sustained dialogue and collaboration with the Maldives.

India-Maldives Relations: A Comprehensive Overview

Security Partnership:

In 2022, India's External Affairs Minister inaugurated the National College for Policing and Law Enforcement (NCPLE) during his visit to Maldives, emphasizing the strengthening security ties between the two nations. Additionally, India supported the construction of a drug detoxification and rehabilitation center in Addu, one of several community development projects, and signed an USD80-million contract for the Addu reclamation and shore protection project.

Economic Cooperation:

India and Maldives have deepened economic cooperation, with tourism as a significant component of their bilateral engagement. Indian companies, such as Afcons, have undertaken substantial infrastructure projects like the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP). Maldives has become a vital trading partner for India, with bilateral trade showing a remarkable 31% growth in 2021 despite pandemic challenges.

Challenges in India-Maldives Relations:

Political Instability:

The political instability in Maldives, exemplified by the arrest of opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed in 2015, poses a challenge to India's security and development interests in the region. Navigating these dynamics has tested India's neighborhood policy.


Maldives has witnessed a concerning trend of its citizens being radicalized by groups like the Islamic State and Pakistan-based jihadist organizations. This radicalization raises fears of these Maldivian islands becoming potential launch pads for terror attacks against India and Indian interests.

China Angle:

China's expanding strategic presence in South Asia, including the Maldives, has raised apprehensions for India. Maldives' inclination towards utilizing the "China card" in its diplomatic dealings with India adds another layer of complexity to the relationship, making it crucial for India to balance its ties in the region.

In summary, while India and Maldives have made significant strides in their security partnership and economic cooperation, challenges stemming from political instability, radicalization, and China's strategic presence underscore the need for India to navigate these complexities astutely.


The Maldives' democratic journey exemplifies the nation's resilience and commitment to democratic values. As the country enters a new phase with President-elect Mohamed Muizzu at the helm, strategic diplomacy and partnerships will play a crucial role in shaping the nation's future. For India, this presents an opportunity to deepen its ties with the Maldives, focusing on mutual understanding and trust. By fostering meaningful collaborations, India can not only strengthen its strategic presence in the region but also contribute significantly to the Maldives' socio-economic development and political stability. As the Maldives navigates the complex waters of democracy and diplomacy, building bridges of understanding and trust will be essential for fostering enduring partnerships and ensuring a prosperous future for both nations.

Probable Questions for UPSC Mains Exam

  1. Examine the challenges India faces in its relations with the Maldives, including political instability, radicalization, and China's strategic presence. How can India navigate these complexities strategically to protect its interests and enhance regional stability? (10 marks, 150 words)
  2. Discuss the significance of India's 'India First' policy in light of the recent Maldivian presidential election. How can India utilize its historical and cultural ties to foster collaborations, contributing to the Maldives' development and stability? (15 marks, 250 words)

Source – The Hindu