Roving Pericope: As India promotes Lakshadweep, broke Pakistan assures help to the Maldives!
New Delhi: Amid a diplomatic row, as New Delhi slashed the financial aid to the Maldives by 22 percent in the Interim Budge 2024 on Thursday, and a large number of Indian tourists shunned the island nation last month, a nearly bankrupt Pakistan has assured it of help, showing renewed interest in the Indian Ocean nation it sought to annex after 1947.
As Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the aid cut, election-bound Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul Haq Kakar called up President Mohamed Muizzu, pledging support to the Maldives for addressing “pressing development needs,” the media reported on Friday.
The two leaders discussed ways to fortify the bilateral ties the President’s Office said in a press release. They also discussed the top priorities for the two countries and spoke about enhancing cooperation in the international arena.
Kakar also pledged support and assistance to the Maldives’ efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The Maldives, known for its pristine beaches and luxury tourism, has witnessed a significant shift in its tourist demographics, with Indian visitors dropping from the third to the fifth largest group within three weeks, according to data from the Maldives’ Tourism Ministry.
This decline coincides with escalating diplomatic tensions between India and the Maldives following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the Indian archipelago of Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea, a Union Territory, that Pakistan also sought to annex after Independence.
Indian tourists, numbering around 300,000 in 2023, have long been a key demographic for the Maldives, comprising nearly 11 percent of its tourism market. However, the recent controversy after PM Modi’s Lakshadweep visit on January 2 stirred up a firestorm, triggering a sharp decline in Indian tourist numbers.
PM Modi’s visit and his subsequent social media posts promoting Lakshadweep were interpreted by some in the Maldives as a strategic move to divert tourists away from their nation. Three junior ministers in the Muizzu government posted derogatory comments against the PM, sparking a wave of anti-Maldives sentiment on social media platforms in India.
The hashtag #BoycottMaldives trended for days on social media, accompanied by reports of canceled trips to the island nation. An Indian travel portal, EaseMyTrip, suspended bookings for flights to the Maldives in solidarity with the nation.
From an overall top position in 2023 to fifth-highest in January-end 2024, the number of Indian tourists going to the Maldives has declined significantly.
To control the damage, the Maldives officials later deleted their posts, and President Muizzu, who was on his first state visit to China then, suspended them.
But this did not quell the firestorm as the pro-Indian Maldivians strongly protested and even manhandled some members of parliament, demanding their President apologize to PM Modi, as they feared the adverse bilateral relationship would severely damage their tourism industry.
On Thursday, FM Sitharaman increased the budgetary allocation for the tourism industry by two percent. “With increasing interest in domestic tourism, India will start new infrastructure development and port connectivity projects at Lakshadweep and other islands,” she said.
The government would encourage the states and the UTs to develop tourism sites and make branding and marketing worldwide. Besides, the Centre would also provide long-term, interest-free loans to these states, she added.