Maldives Opposition demands apology to India over insult
Amid the ongoing row between India and the Maldives, opposition leader and the Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party, Fayyaz Ismail, has called for a "tougher stand" by the government, saying that the racist comments against India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were just isolated individual opinions of these people who were unfortunately given positions in the government.
He underlined how the entire matter has reached a lot of Indians as well as Maldivians, due to easy accessibility of social media.
"I personally believe the government should take a tougher stand on that because this goes beyond government to government. Now, because of the easy accessibility of social media, this has reached to a lot of Indians and to a lot of Maldivians. And as arguments take over from both side, there has been lot of insults coming back and forth. So the government needs to show that there was no intention on the part of the government. These were just isolated individual opinions of these people who, unfortunately, were given positions in the government. So that needs to be clearly shown to the Indians, to the Maldivians, and to the entire world at large," he said.
On being asked if the ongoing spat between the two countries is going to have an impact on the India-Maldives ties, as well the revenue that Indian tourists have generated for the island nation over the years, the Maldivian leader, who was also the former Minister of Economic Development of Maldives, asserted that it is much more than economics or revenue.
"This relationship between India and Maldives has been nurtured and fostered over a long period of time by very mature leaders, past leaders of our country and yours as well. So just one or two tweets derailing this entire relationship is very sad," the minister said.
"So, for me, the main problem is that this has gone beyond governments. Governments will always have spats; obviously, with the change of political parties, whether it's in India or Maldives, there will be differences of opinion," he added.
He further went on to say that he is more concerned about how to make the required repairs as the ongoing spat between India and the Maldives has now reached the people.
"But now this has reached the people, and that is something I am more concerned about--how to repair that. So to repair that from our side, our government have to come up with a stronger statement or action on that. And I would hope that from the Indian colleagues, that there will be more restraint as well to try to diffuse this," he told ANI.
In terms of aid and assistance provided by India to Maldives, he said, "Yes, India has been a very strong development partner of Maldives, not only in terms of economics but social development as well. And at the same time, Maldives has been a strong, staunch ally of India across the international spectrum. So this is a relationship which is mutual."
"And the security and stability of the Indian Ocean region depends on the part played by each of the countries, whether large or small, in this region," he added and urged that it is important here that spat is taken as a spat, and forgotten as soon as possible for the interest of both countries.
He said, "Yes, some people, nationalistic people from both countries, may say that Maldives may say, we can do without India, and Indians may say that you are a very small country. But no, that's not the correct approach. We will be here. India will be there. So we need to work together in tandem, which includes our governments and our people as well."
Meanwhile, on Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu's recent visit to China, where he slated to meet Xi Jinping and sign key agreements, the Maldivian opposition leader said that with the change in the political spectrum in Maldives, and in political parties, there will be always shifts in the intensity of engagement.
"Well, first of all, there is no doubt that the current government has more favourable or more stronger relation with China. The Maldives has always maintained friendly relations with all countries, except for Israel. So with the change in the political spectrum in Maldives, with the change in political parties, there will be always shifts in the intensity of engagement with different partners, obviously. And in this case, you're seeing more robust engagement with China rather than India," he said.
"Until now, we have always, all parties in the Maldives maintained an India-first policy, and that is also very crucial for our security and stability as well. But this government may have got different approaches to its foreign policy, and maintaining good relations with China is not an issue that any party in the Maldives would also want," he noted.
Furthermore, the Maldivian minister added by saying that he has visited India a lot of times and has always wanted to visit Lakshadweep.
"And now that this has really come up, my interest is much more piqued and I would really take more steps for me to go and visit that beautiful nation. And I think there is a historical link between Maldives and Lakshadeep as well. There are Maldives-speaking people in. on one of those islands as well. So we have deep historical and religious roots as well. And I have always wanted to visit and see Maldivian people in another country. So, yes, I would definitely like to visit Lakshadeep," the minister said.
Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu, during his ongoing five-day state visit to China, urged China to "intensify" efforts to send more tourists to the Maldives.
The appeal comes in the wake of a diplomatic spat leading to the cancellation of reservations by Indian tourists for Maldives as derogatory remarks were made by Maldivian ministers against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Maldivian media reported that during President Muizzu's visit, the two countries signed a USD 50 million project aimed at developing an integrated tourism zone in the Indian Ocean island.
The appeal for more Chinese tourists follows a diplomatic row initiated by derogatory remarks from some Maldivian ministers against Prime Minister Modi, prompting the suspension of three deputy ministers and condemnation from the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI).
The data released by the Maldives Tourism Ministry earlier, stated that India has remained the largest tourist market for the country in 2023.
On January 2, PM Modi visited the Union Territory of Lakshadweep and shared several pictures, including an 'exhilarating experience' of him trying his hand at snorkelling.
In a series of posts on X, PM Modi shared pictures of the white beaches, the pristine blue skies and the ocean and tagged them with a message that read, "For those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them, Lakshadweep has to be on your list."
In a post that has now been deleted, the Maldivian Deputy Minister of Youth Empowerment, Mariyam Shiuna, made a mocking and disrespectful reference to PM Modi.
Indians, including cricketers and film celebrities, have since come out in open support in promoting local beach destinations and other tourist spots. They also voiced support for PM Modi's call for promoting beach tourism in Lakshadweep.
The Maldives government has, however, distanced itself from the remarks made by its ministers. Maldivian Minister of Foreign Affairs Moosa Zameer said that these remarks against foreign leaders are "unacceptable" and do not reflect the official position of the Maldives government.