By Elton Gomes
New Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih arrivedin New Delhi on Sunday for a three-day visit to India.
Solih, who defeated strongman Yameen Abdul Gayoom held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday. Solih was also supposed to meet President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during his visit.
Solih’s visit comes about a month after PM Modi attended his swearing-in ceremony. In the Maldives, Modi had said that he was looking forward to working closely with Solih as both leaders expressed confidence in the renewal of bilateral ties.
“Maldives and India have been friends since time immemorial,” says Solih
Addressing a public event on December 16, Solih said that there are no obstructions in doing business with his country and described India as the ‘closest friend’ of Male.
“Maldives and India have been friends since time immemorial. India is our closest neighbour and our people have ties of friendship and cultural affinity and within those close links trade and commerce have flourished. India is not only our closest friend, it is also one of our largest trading partners,” President Solih said at the event organised by CII, FICCI, and ASSOCHAM, the Hindu reported.
Earlier, welcoming Solih, India’s commerce minister Suresh Prabhu urged the Maldivian President to seek India’s partnership in addressing Male’s developmental challenges. Prabhu said that the Indian government’s flagship projects have scope for Maldives-India partnership.
India announces $1.4 billion package for Maldives
On Monday, December 17, India announced a $1.4 billion financial assistance package for the Maldives, in a move seen as aimed at drawing Maldives closer to New Delhi’s sphere of influence after a period of estrangement that saw the nation leaning closer to China.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the package after talks with visiting Maldivian President Solih in New Delhi.
“We held successful talks in a cordial atmosphere,” Modi told reporters with Solih by his side. “For Maldives’ social and economic development, we are providing a financial assistance of $1.4 billion in the form of budgetary support, currency swap agreements and concessional lines of credit,” Modi said, LiveMint reported.
According to the India-Maldives joint statement, Solih “reaffirmed his government’s ‘India-First Policy’ and commitment to working together closely with India.”
He appreciated India’s assistance to the Maldives and identified various areas for development cooperation, “including private sector involvement in development of housing and infrastructure, water and sewerage systems in the outlying islands, healthcare, education and tourism,” the statement said, as per the Live Mintreport.
Relations between India and the Maldives deteriorated after former president Abdul Yameen Gayoom imposed emergency in February 2017. India criticised Yameen’s decision and asked his government to restore the credibility of the electoral and political process by releasing political prisoners. However, Maldives’ new president seems keen on improving bilateral ties with New Delhi.
On foreign policy, Solih said that he would work to “fortify” Male’s existing relationship with India, which had grown strained under Yameen. Solih delivered the remarks in the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made his first trip to the Maldives for the president’s swearing-in ceremony.
How Solih came to power
When the votes were polled in September this year, the opposition parties and leaders cried foul saying that the election was rigged and that unfair practices were adopted by the Yameen administration.
President Yameen Abdul Gayoom had allowed only a handful of foreign media outlets to cover the election. Indian journalists were particularly censored.
After 97.5 percent ballots had been counted, Solih claimed are resounding win after securing 58.3 percent of the votes polled.
The Maldives is strategically located in the Indian Ocean and has served as a battleground for India and China as both seek to increase their influence in South Asia. Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party has taken an anti-China stance—this has been in keeping with Solih’s India First foreign policy and has definitely been well-received in New Delhi.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius