Former President Abdulla Yameen has spotlighted the fragile state of the Maldives’ relations with India, attributing the strain to derogatory comments made by senior government officials against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Speaking at a People’s National Front (PNF) gathering, Yameen, who is currently under house arrest after being convicted and sentenced to prison on corruption charges, refuted claims of personal animosity towards India, despite his advocacy for the “India Out” campaign aimed at removing Indian military presence from the Maldives.

Yameen’s remarks come against the backdrop of escalating tensions, marked by allegations from Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim, who accused both Yameen and former President Mohamed Nasheed of exacerbating diplomatic friction with India. These tensions were the reason, according to Qasim, which led to Indian Coastguard operations within Maldivian waters, an issue that prompted an emergency motion at the Parliament.

The “India Out” movement, initiated by Yameen in the lead-up to the presidential elections, seeks the removal of Indian military personnel and assets, including helicopters and aircraft, provided under defence agreements since 2016. Yameen, despite his current stance, had previously welcomed Indian military assistance, a point of contention highlighted by his critics.

Qasim, speaking at the parliamentary debate on the motion, criticised the actions of the Indian navy in the Maldives’ economic zone and pointed to the historical acceptance of Indian military support by both Nasheed and Yameen’s administrations as the root of the current predicament.

He underscored the constitutional requirement for parliamentary approval for foreign military presence, a procedure he alleges was bypassed by both former leaders.

The debate around foreign military presence intensified, with Nasheed’s alleged comments suggesting potential Indian military intervention in the Maldives’ affairs if the archipelago aligns with China or speaks against India.

Last week, during the second Core Group meeting between the Maldives and India on the removal of troops, both countries agreed to replace the military personnel stationed in the Maldives to operate the India-gifted aircraft with civil personnel by 10 May 2024.

This nuanced policy manoeuvring reflects the Maldives government’s strategic balancing act between fulfilling electoral pledges and sustaining its defence and development partnership with India. A third meeting of the High-Level Core Group is scheduled to be held in Malé during the last week of February, on a mutually agreeable date, to further this initiative.