Modi’s day-long visit was intended to cement the opportunity provided by the victory of opposition candidate Solih after Yameen had imposed emergency, jailed judges and political opponents while cosying up to Chinese interests in return for Beijing’s support to his unpopular regime. The PM was the only head of government or state to be invited to the event.
Modi’s decision to travel to Male for Solih’s swearing-in is a sign that India will be a more proactive neighbour and support the new Maldives leader to enable him to govern more independently.
In a Facebook post before his departure, Modi offered congratulations and said, “I will convey to the new Maldivian government of Mr Solih the desire of my government to work closely for the realisation of developmental priorities, especially in areas of infrastructure, healthcare, connectivity and human resource development.”
Solih’s inaugural speech mentioned only India by name as he said, “We will endeavour to fortify existing ties with India. Maldives will hereupon bolster its shared role to retain enduring peace and harmony of the Indian Ocean.” Modi walked into a meeting with Solih immediately after the ceremony, while he met former Presidents Mohammed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom too later.
Gayoom, a long-serving president, is Abdulla’s half-brother and was arrested under the previous regime while Nasheed went into exile in the UK and travelled to India and Sri Lanka.
Modi said the “recent elections in the Maldives represent the collective aspirations of the people for democracy, rule of law and a prosperous future. We in India strongly desire to see a stable, democratic, prosperous and peaceful republic of Maldives”.
In a joint press statement, the two countries said, “The two leaders discussed ways in which India can continue development partnership, particularly to help the new government in meeting its pledges to the people of the Maldives.” Solih has described Maldives’ economic condition as “dire”.
Modi was joined by former Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga and senior leaders from Saudi Arabia during the ceremony while China was represented by its tourism and culture minister.
Solih was sworn in at a special ceremony at the National Football Stadium in the capital Male. This is Modi’s first visit to the Maldives as PM. The last visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the Indian Ocean island nation was by Manmohan Singh in 2011.
Two days ago, India handed over to the Maldivian Coast Guard one of its ships, Huravee, after carrying out a major refit at the naval dockyard in Vishakhapatnam.
Maldives foreign minister will visit India on November 26 to kick-start the new and improved relationship. Modi also pushed for “expanding opportunities for Indian companies to invest in the Maldives in different sectors for the mutual benefit of both countries” as well as easing visas.
Solih will have to deal with Chinese debt, which one account put at $3 billion. However, Mohamed Nasheed has promised his party would reduce reliance on China and renegotiate millions of dollars in loans taken from Beijing. But, as Sri Lanka discovered, this is easier said than done.