India’s foremost diplomat, Dr S Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister, has emphatically denied allegations that the nation acts as a regional bully, particularly in the South East Asian context. Speaking at an event hosted by the Ananta Aspen Center, Jaishankar highlighted India’s financial and humanitarian aid to neighbouring countries as evidence of its cooperative rather than coercive approach.

The statement appears to counter remarks made by Maldivian President Dr Mohamed Muizzu, who, in January, criticised unnamed countries for attempting to bully the Maldives. Without directly naming India, Muizzu’s comments have been interpreted as an indirect reference to the South Asian giant, amidst his administration’s efforts to reduce reliance on India and demands for the withdrawal of Indian troops from the Maldives.

Jaishankar, addressing these insinuations, pointed out India’s substantial support to its neighbours, including a USD 4.5 billion aid package, vaccine supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and assistance in meeting food, fuel, and fertiliser needs amid global crises. These actions, he argued, are inconsistent with the behaviour of a country that seeks to bully its neighbours.

The minister underscored the progress in India’s relations with surrounding nations over the past decade, citing enhanced trade, investment, and people-to-people exchanges. He mentioned improved connectivity and cooperation with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and even the Maldives as testament to India’s positive role in the region.

Jaishankar’s comments suggest a singular point of contention with one neighbouring country, which he did not name, but emphasised India’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to maintain peace and cooperation in the region.

This rebuttal comes in the wake of President Muizzu’s criticism during a press interaction at Velana International Airport on 13 January, following his state visit to China, where he advocated for Maldivian autonomy and resistance against external pressure.

India’s stance, as articulated by Jaishankar, challenges the perception of its regional dominance, aiming to present a narrative of mutual support and collaboration amid accusations of heavy-handedness.