The recent presidential elections in the Maldives have been seen as a virtual referendum on the country’s geopolitical alignment, with India, China, and the United States all vying for influence. The new president-elect, Mohamed Muizzu, has expressed his intention to follow through with his campaign promise to remove Indian military personnel stationed in the country. This move, if it comes to fruition, would have significant implications for India’s geopolitical interests in the region.
India’s Geopolitical Interests in the Maldives
India has a number of geopolitical interests in the Maldives. First, the Maldives is located in the strategically important Indian Ocean, which is a vital sea lane for global trade. It is also located near the Strait of Hormuz, a key chokepoint for global oil supplies.
Second, the Maldives is a close neighbor, located just 600 kilometers from India’s southern coast. This close proximity gives India a natural interest in the security and stability of the Maldives.
Third, the Maldives is a major economic partner. India is the Maldives’ largest trading partner and source of foreign investment. India also provides significant development assistance to the Maldives.
India’s Military Presence in the Maldives
India’s military presence in the Maldives has been shaped by its geopolitical interests in the country. India has maintained a military presence in the Maldives for over three decades. This presence has been based on a series of agreements between the two countries, including a 2018 agreement that allows India to station military personnel and equipment in the Maldives.
India’s military presence in the Maldives serves a number of purposes. First, it helps to deter external aggression against the Maldives. The Maldives is a small and vulnerable country, and India’s military presence helps to reassure the Maldivian government and people that they are not alone.
Second, India’s military presence helps to maintain regional stability. The Maldives is located in a strategically important region, and India’s military presence helps to prevent the Maldives from becoming a staging ground for other powers.
Third, India’s military presence helps to protect Indian interests in the Maldives. India has a number of economic and security interests in the Maldives; its military presence helps to ensure that these interests are protected.
Options and Probable Next Steps by India
India has a number of options at its disposal in response to the Maldives’ probable pivot towards China and the potential removal of Indian military personnel from the country.
One option is to simply accept the Maldives’ decision, if and when it comes, and withdraw Indian military personnel. This would be the most straightforward option, but it would also be a sign of weakness on India’s part. It would also leave the Maldives more vulnerable to external aggression and could lead to increased Chinese influence in the region.
Another option is for India to try to pressure the Maldives to reconsider such a decision. India could do this by using economic or diplomatic leverage. However, this approach is likely to be counterproductive, as it could lead to a backlash from the Maldivian government and people.
A third option is for India to try to build a stronger relationship with the new Maldivian government. India could do this by offering economic assistance and development aid. This approach would be more likely to be successful in the long term, but it would require India to be patient and understanding.
It is likely that India will try to build a stronger relationship with the new Maldivian government. India has a long history of close ties with the Maldives, and it is in India’s best interests to maintain a good relationship with the country.
India is also likely to continue to provide economic assistance and development aid to the Maldives. This will help to strengthen India’s ties with the Maldivian people and government.
In the short term, India may also need to take some steps to protect its interests in the Maldives. This could include increasing its naval presence in the region and conducting joint exercises with the Maldivian military.
No doubt, China has been making significant inroads into the Maldives in recent years, and it is clear that China is seeking to expand its influence in the region. Even so, India’s need of the hour is to eschew any grandstanding and continue its decades-long engagement with the Maldives government and people in a positive, constructive, and polite environment. India has a long history of close ties with the Maldives, and it is in India’s best interests to maintain a good relationship with the country–whatever the perceived provocation may be.
(Dev Chandrasekhar is a strategy consultant. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author.)