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Maldives Suspends Ministers for Derogatory Comments on Indian PM Modi

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In a move that further strained relations between the Maldives and India, three deputy ministers in the island nation have been suspended for making derogatory comments about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The officials responded to a social media post by PM Modi, referring to him as a “clown,” a “terrorist,” and a “puppet of Israel.” The comments, made by Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna, and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid, ignited a firestorm on Indian social media.

The Maldivian Foreign Ministry was quick to distance the government from the remarks, emphasizing that they were personal opinions and did not represent the official stance. Despite widespread calls for their dismissal, the suspended officials have only been temporarily relieved of their duties.

The controversy unfolded when PM Modi shared posts on X (formerly Twitter) promoting tourism to the Indian archipelago of Lakshadweep. In response, the Maldivian ministers took to social media to express their disparaging views, with Shiuna going so far as to compare India with cow dung. The inflammatory comments led to outrage on Indian social media, prompting hashtags such as #BoycottMaldives and #ExploreIndianIslands.

The impact of the controversy extended beyond social media, with some Indians declaring their intention to cancel holidays to the Maldives. Indians represented a significant portion of the tourist influx to the Maldives in the previous year. The CEO of the Indian ticket-booking site EaseMyTrip announced the suspension of all flight bookings to the Maldives in response to the comments.

The Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu’s office confirmed the suspension of the three officials, emphasizing the swift action taken to address the situation. The move comes amid existing tensions between India and the Maldives, marked by President Muizzu’s decision to ask around 75 Indian troops to leave the country after assuming power last year.

Former Maldivian president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih condemned the “hateful language against India” by the officials and urged the preservation of the longstanding friendship between the two countries. Bollywood star Akshay Kumar and several cricketers expressed dismay at the comments, emphasizing the importance of diplomatic decorum.

The incident occurs ahead of President Muizzu’s five-day state visit to China, signaling a potential diplomatic setback for India. Choosing Beijing for his first international visit after taking office, President Muizzu breaks the tradition of Maldivian leaders visiting India first. This shift in diplomatic strategy is seen as an attempt to diversify international relations and reduce India’s historical influence over the archipelago.

India’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal addressed the situation, stating that India respects the autonomy of nations in their international relations. He also mentioned that there is no update on the withdrawal of Indian troops from the Maldives, highlighting the presence of security personnel to maintain donated maritime rescue and surveillance aircraft.

The Maldivian government’s decision to terminate a bilateral agreement with India in December, allowing collaboration in mapping the seabed in Maldivian territorial waters, further underscores the changing dynamics in the region. As India and China vie for influence in the strategically vital Indian Ocean region, President Muizzu’s visit to China and the ongoing diplomatic developments raise questions about the evolving geopolitical landscape in the Maldives.

In the coming weeks, how India responds to these diplomatic challenges and manages its relations with the Maldives and China will be closely watched, shaping the geopolitical narrative in the Indian Ocean.

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