NEW DELHI, Jan 8: As the row between Maldives and India continues to spiral after three Maldivian ministers made derogatory remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India with many Indian visitors cancelling their Maldives trips, the island’s former deputy speaker Eva Abdulla labelled the comments as “shameful and racist” and apologising to India requested Indians to end the boycott campaign against Maldives.
The tussle between India and the Maldives began after three Maldivian ministers made derogatory posts on PM Modi’s recent trip to Lakshadweep where he pitched the island as a domestic tourist destination which were viewed by the now suspended junior ministers as competing with beach tourism of Maldives. The comments were met with a huge backlash with #BoycottMaldives trending on social media and several Indian celebrities giving a call for promoting Lakshadweep tourism boycotting Maldives.
Even as the Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel said India would not be demanding a public apology from the Maldives government for the comments by the three former deputy ministers, Maldives Minister of Foreign Affairs Moosa Zameer said on Tuesday that these remarks against foreign leaders were “unacceptable” and do not reflect the official position of the Maldives government.
He stated that the Maldives remains committed to fostering a “positive and constructive dialogue” with all its partners, particularly its neighbours. In a post shared on X, Moosa Zameer stated, “The recent remarks against foreign leaders and our close neighbours are unacceptable and do not reflect the official position of the Government of #Maldives. We remain committed to fostering a positive and constructive dialogue with all our partners, especially our neighbours, based on mutual respect and understanding.”
The Lakshadweep administrator said the remarks by three Maldives ministers – which included comments critical of Mr Modi – was “challenged the dignity of India.” “India will never tolerate such an insult (and) the entire country showed solidarity with the Prime Minister,” he said, adding, “I want to thank the people of India for standing by the PM and Lakshadweep.”
Mr Patel also waved away talk of demanding a public apology from Maldives, pointing out the ministers who made the comments had been disciplined. “We are not going to talk about it (a public apology)… our values are different… they did not need to make such comments. They have been punished by the government for their actions. This showed India will not tolerate any insult to its PM. From Bollywood celebrities to cricketers as well as ordinary people… India has given a befitting reply to the Maldives.”
Asked if he would welcome Maldivians to Lakshadweep, the administrator said, “This is our country’s tradition. If they want to come, appreciate our beauty and are happy, it will make us happy too. What’s wrong in it. Definitely, they should come.”
The row began after Maldivian ministers Maryam Shiuna, Malsha Shareef and Mahzoom Majid posted critical remarks about Mr Modi on X. This was after the Prime Minister posted photos and videos from his visit to Lakshadweep, in which he was seen snorkelling and relaxing on pristine beaches. The PM’s posts prompted social media users to push for Lakshadweep as an alternate holiday destination.
The Maldives – which relies heavily on Indian tourists for revenue – reacted swiftly. “Those who made such posts on social media while in government positions have been suspended…” the island nation said.
The incident has, though, snowballed into a political and diplomatic flash point, particularly with opposition lawmakers in that country using this to attack the ruling party. Former President Mohamed Nasheed called the remarks “appalling” and asked his successor, Mohamed Muizzu, to distance his government from these comments. India, meanwhile, has summoned the Maldives envoy in Delhi.
Ties between the two nations have been strained ever since Mohamed Muizzu, seen largely as a pro-China leader, was elected President. Following his election to the top post, Mr Muizzu – due to visit China this week – pushed for the withdrawal of Indian troops from the Maldives on grounds of national security.
Day after Bollywood celebrities joined hands to promote Lakshadweep as a tourist destination amid the ongoing row with the Maldives, megastar Amitabh Bachchan, cricketers Venkatesh Prasad, Virendra Sehwag and others shared their appreciation for serene beauty of Lakshadweep praising the “astonishingly beautiful location.”
On Sunday, actors Akshay Kumar, Varun Dhawan, Salman Khan, Shraddha Kapoor along with veteran cricketers Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatesh Prasad and Virendra Sehwag had appealed to people to explore domestic islands instead of going to the Maldives. After the criticism, the government of Maldives suspended the three deputy ministers saying their personal views do not represent its position.
Ms Eva Abdulla, who is also a sitting MP, said the outrage over the comments was understandable. “Indians are rightfully angry. The comments made are outrageous. However, the comments are in no way a reflection of the opinion of the Maldivian people. I’d like to apologise personally to the people of India for the shameful comments made,” she said.
The Maldivian MP appealed to the Indian people to end the #BoycottMaldives social media campaign and “come back” to the islands for holidays. After the row began, many Indians on social media claimed that they cancelled their planned holidays to the island nation and several Bollywood celebrities also pitched Lakshadweep as an alternate tourist destination.
“Comments from one or two people should not be a reflection of the way Maldivian people see India. We want to ask Indians to return to Maldives and end the boycott campaign,” she said.
Ms Abdulla also reiterated the importance of strong India-Maldives ties and said the island nation depended on “long-standing ally” India for economic gains, trade, education and tourism. “This is not an attitude the Maldivian government can take towards India. I hope these comments are a one-off occurrence and the current administration will come down hard on anyone who has made such comments so they can not be expressed again,” she said.