Competitive Exams: Current Affairs 2011: India-Maldives relations

India-Maldives relations

Located in the Indian Ocean, south west of India, Maldives is a fascinating conglomeration of 1, 200 islands and atolls, of which only 200 are inhabited. The nation faces an existentialist angst, not of the philosophical but real kind of possible extinction due to the vagaries of climate change. The earth's warming and resultant rising sea levels mean that Maldives could disappear in a century or more, depending on which estimates are reliable. Maldivians, living at an average height of 1.5 metres above the mean sea level, experience the threat on a daily basis.

Soon after his election as President in 2008, Mohamed Nasheed began to draw international attention to the adverse impact of climate change on island nations. His decision to set aside a part of the national income for possible purchase of land that may serve as an alternative home for his people triggered a controversy, especially when it became known that three countries that may be approached are Sri Lanka, India and Australia. Nothing much seems to have come out of this initiative, but it has successfully highlighted the dangers experienced by the nation and the long term perspective it is being encouraged to adopt.

During his recent visit, External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna discussed long term cooperation on climate change issues in Male. He conveyed to the Maldivian leadership that a prosperous, democratic and peaceful Maldives is in our mutual interest and that India remains committed to assisting it in all possible ways.

Bilateral cooperation has been on a high trajectory in recent times, as the Indian side put it, with both sides engaged in a series of comprehensive, forward looking, pragmatic and mutually beneficial initiatives and projects. Defence and economic cooperation represent two vital pillars of this multidimensional relationship.

Ever since 1988, when India took daring and speedy action to thwart an attempt by Sri Lanka's Tamil militants to overthrow the Gayoom government, much of the region has understood and respected the deep linkage between the strategic interests of India and Maldives. Over the years India has extended assistance in the form of equipment and training, measures designed to enhance cooperation between the Coast Guards, and help in undertaking hydrographical surveys in Maldivian waters. Cooperation to counter piracy and terrorism is on the rise.

Economic cooperation: While strengthening economic cooperation, policymakers in New Delhi have to factor in the small size and vulnerable nature of the Maldivian economy. With tourism and fishing as the main sources of revenue and the country needing to import everything, it is not surprising that bilateral trade largely comprises exports by India. Investments by Indian companies have been increasing in sectors such as education, hospitality, renewable energy, health and waste management and marine products. India Inc's involvement has enriched the relationship, which has been dominated so far by government funded projects.

Mr. Krishna announced a rich package of measures including renovation of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, construction of the Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism by 2015, establishment of a development finance institution, setting up of an Information Technology Village in Male, and promotion of Maldives as a film shooting destination. Another important step is to enhance connectivity through the launch of a passenger cum cargo ferry service between Kochi and Male by November 2011. Further, India would provide $40 million line of credit for the housing sector and $100 million as soft loan for a comprehensive economic development package.

Cultural bonds: India-Maldives relations go beyond diplomacy and economics. Despite the high visibility of political and economic themes, it is basically the scope and depth of the people to people relations at the ground level that ultimately determines the level and warmth of relations between the two countries. Guided by this concept, fresh efforts are under way to impart momentum as is evident from the decision of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) to set up the Indian Cultural Centre in Male.

Maldives will host the next South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in November, for which India is extending all necessary assistance. These efforts can perhaps be broadened by involving our youth. For example, a group of university students from Kerala and New Delhi should be drafted to serve as volunteers to help delegates. Most tourists to Maldives still come from Europe; this must change by developing attractive packages for well to do tourists from Indian cities. More efforts are required by our media organizations to step up coverage of developments in Maldives. To invest in raising awareness and interest within India about relations with our smaller neighbors is promoting self interest, not altruism. Above all, we should draw appropriate lessons from India-Maldives relations for the management of other neighborhood relationships. Greater efforts and sensitivity not just by the government but we as a nation are certain to yield rich dividends. Without a friendly, peaceful and prosperous South Asia, India's ambition to be a great power may remain unfulfilled.

Courtesy: The Hindu and Times of India