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Maldives Government Suspends Three Junior Ministers making Derogatory Remarks against Modi

Maldives Government Suspends Three Junior Ministers making Derogatory Remarks against Modi

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Jan 7: In a damage control exercise, the Maldives government after distancing itself from the three junior ministers finally suspended them from the ministry on Sunday for making derogatory remarks against the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The three deputy ministers were suspended after they took to social media to make derogatory remarks against Mr Modi and were lambasted by the opposition for the “appalling language” used by the ministers. In an earlier statement, the government had said it “will not hesitate to take action against those who make such derogatory remarks.”

The three suspended ministers are Mariyam Shiuna, Malsha Sharif and Mahzoom Maajid. In a statement, the government said: “The Government of Maldives is aware of derogatory remarks on social media platforms against foreign leaders and high-ranking individuals. These opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the Government of Maldives.”

Shiuna’s now deleted post featured photos of Modi from his recent visit to Lakshadweep. “What a clown. The puppet of Israel Mr Narendra diver with life jacket. #VisitMaldives #SunnySideOfLife,” the post said. She also compared India to cow dung.

Another deputy minister, a colleague of Shiuna, Malsha Sharif, made similar derogatory comments against India and the tourism campaign in the Maldives.

These posts, along with others by prominent politicians and leaders, instigated other users into posting a wide range of racist remarks against Indians and Indian tourists who travel to the Maldives.

The social media posts by the three ministers and later by several others sparked a massive firestorm with several Indians claiming to have cancelled their scheduled trip to the nation made up of more than a hundred islands dotted with luxury resorts. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs today issued a statement on the stand of the Government of India in relation to some posts on social media that are insulting to neighbouring India,” the Maldives government said in a statement.

“Those who made such posts on social media while in government positions have now been suspended from their jobs,” the statement said.

It all began when these ministers and some other leaders in Maldives, apparently distraught over Modi’s visit to Lakshadweep, posted derogatory remarks against the Indian Prime Minister after he posted several photos and videos from his recent visit to Lakshadweep. His posts where he was seen snorkelling went viral, prompting social media users to suggest India’s smallest Union Territory as an alternate tourist destination to the Maldives.

The Maldivian government, earlier in the day, distanced itself from these remarks and said the opinions were “personal and do not represent the views of the Government” after several opposition leaders in the country slammed the “appalling language.”

The freedom of expression should be exercised in a democratic and responsible manner, and in ways that do not spread hatred, and negativity, and hinder close relationships between the Maldives and its international partners, it said.

The statement followed massive outrage within the Maldives with several prominent leaders criticising the remarks against the nation’s “closest neighbour”. Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed described the remarks as “appalling” and asked President Mohamed Muizzu’s government to distance itself from these comments. “What appalling language by Maldives government official Mariyam Shiuna towards the leader of a key ally, that is instrumental for Maldives’ security and prosperity. The Mohamed Muizzu government must distance itself from these comments and give clear assurance to India they do not reflect gov policy,” Mr Nasheed said in a post on X. Mr Nasheed was elected President in 2008, but resigned in 2012 after what he called a coup engineered by his rivals.

Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb strongly condemned the “derogatory and racist comments made by a group of Maldivian politicians.” This comes as a big reassurance to India amid the diplomatic tussle with the island nation.

“We established the Maldives tourism industry based on the principles of hospitality, tolerance, peace, and harmony. Through strategic positioning and collaborations with global brands and investments, including those from India, we have successfully positioned Maldives as a premier luxury resort destination,” Mr Adeeb said.

“I strongly condemn any derogatory and racist comments made by a group of Maldivian politicians towards His Excellency PM Modi @PMOIndia and beloved citizens of India,” he added.

He commended the Maldives Government for distancing itself from the views expressed by these officials and emphasising that they do not reflect the government’s position.

“Considering the global economic challenges and the vulnerability of the Maldives tourism industry and economy, it is crucial for us to maintain a friendly and humble approach while fostering positive relations, with all nations,” he posted on X.

Ties between the two countries took a downturn after Mohamed Muizzu, whose election pledge was to remove a small contingent of some 75 Indian military personnel in the country and alter the Maldives’s “India first” policy, took over as president of the Indian Ocean nation in November.

Unlike most of his predecessors who visited India first after being elected, Mr Muizzu chose Turkey as his first international port of call. He later met PM Modi in the United Arab Emirates on the sidelines of COP28. The two countries have set up a core group to discuss the withdrawal of Indian troops.

Indian personnel are deployed to operate three gifted aircraft patrolling the maritime territory. The geography of both these destinations is very similar as both these places have low-lying islands, reefs and pristine beaches. Lakshadweep and Maldives are separated by the Eight Degree Channel.

Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically-elected President of Maldives, was on the forefront in condemning the remarks by Maldives ministers. Modi’s visit to the Union Territory comprising 36 islands with an area of 32 sqkm was seen a move to promote tourism on the island which could directly affect the Maldives rich in coastal tourism.

India-Maldives ties in the past few months have been strained, after President Mohamed Muizzu came to power. Mr Muizzu took over as President in November 2023. In his election pledge, he said he would remove a small contingent of some 75 Indian military personnel in his island nation and change Maldives’s “India first” policy.

Seen as a pro-China politician, Mr Muizzu had defeated his India-friendly predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential run-off held in September. Mr Muizzu is scheduled to visit China on Monday, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement. Chinese President Xi Jinping invited him, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Friday.

“China and the Maldives boast time-honoured friendship. In the past 52 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, the two countries have treated each other with respect and supported each other, setting a fine example of equality and mutual benefits between countries of different sizes,” said Wang Wenbin, another spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry.

The new Maldives Vice President Hussain Mohamed Latheef last month visited China, his first visit abroad, and took part in the China-sponsored China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation in Kunming. Significantly, while praising Chinese infrastructure projects, Mr Latheef made no mention of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) under which most of the Maldives’ infrastructure projects were built.

The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region and occupies a special place in India’s initiatives such as SAGAR, or Security and Growth for All in the Region, and the ‘Neighbourhood-First Policy’ of the Modi government.

The Maldives’ proximity to India, barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep, and 300 nautical miles from the mainland’s western coast, and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean, gives it significant strategic importance.

 

 

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