Once again, the Maldives and India find themselves embroiled in a complex dispute, triggered by inflammatory statements and policy shifts. At the heart of the most recent controversy are comments by Indian politician Subramanian Swamy, a former Member of Parliament, who suggested a military intervention in the Maldives. This has been met with stern condemnation from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and has sparked an intense debate over the nature of Indo-Maldivian relations.

Swamy, known for his politically charged rhetoric, suggested on social media that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi should consider deploying the Indian Army, Air Force, and Navy to replace Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu. This statement followed President Muizzu’s directive for the withdrawal of Indian troops from the Maldives by 15 March, shortly after his visit to China.

The MDP’s response was swift and unambiguous. In a statement, the party denounced Swamy’s comments as “irresponsible, reckless, and immature,” accusing him of attempting to instigate hatred between the people of the Maldives and India. The MDP emphasised the long-standing, respectful relationship between the two nations, rooted in mutual respect and people-to-people relations, and highlighted that the current rift was directly linked to President Muizzu’s recent comments.

Following his maiden state visit to China, President Muizzu issued a firm rebuke towards India amid growing diplomatic tensions, asserting that Maldives’s small size does not give any nation the right to bully it.

President Muizzu’s recent visit to China sought to diversify the Maldives’ international alliances, particularly in areas such as emergency medical services, food security, and pharmaceutical imports. This shift marks a significant departure from the previous administration’s “India-first” policy, moving towards a more globally balanced foreign policy approach. The visit coincided with a diplomatic rift with India, following a social media spat over Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promotion of tourism in Lakshadweep, seen as a challenge to the Maldives’ tourism industry.

India’s External Affairs Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, has reiterated the country’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, emphasising the importance of maintaining strong connections with neighbouring countries despite political fluctuations. This statement comes amidst the ongoing diplomatic row, underscoring India’s strategy to foster solid ties with its neighbours, even in the face of political disagreements.

A series of high-level talks between Indian and Maldivian diplomats is currently underway, focusing on the re-negotiation of earlier agreements. Discussions are being held under the India-Maldives co-committee, focusing on President Muizzu’s request for the removal of Indian troops stationed in the Maldives. The outcome of these talks will be pivotal in determining the future course of Indo-Maldivian relations.

This is not the first time a comment made by the former Indian MP has caused a diplomatic rift between the nations. In a similar incident in the lead-up to the 2018 presidential elections, Swamy’s tweet suggesting that “India should invade Maldives if rigging of the presidential election takes place” led to a significant diplomatic fallout, including the summoning of then Indian High Commissioner Akhilesh Mishra to the Maldivian Foreign Ministry.