Mon. Mar 4th, 2024

Why PM Modi Lakshadweep’s visit has the Maldives’ social media and government officials up in arms about India

Why PM Modi Lakshadweep's visit has the Maldives' social media and government officials up in arms about IndiaWhy PM Modi Lakshadweep's visit has the Maldives' social media and government officials up in arms about India

PM Modi: How did a post from Prime Minister Narendra Modi about his recent visit to Lakshadweep elicit social media responses from the Maldives? How does it relate to the Maldives government’s recent position on India? We explain. Just a series of posts on X this weekend from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promoting tourism in the Lakshadweep islands sparked a social media war between Maldivian politicians, government officials, and Indian social media users. The Prime Minister spoke about “the stunning beauty of its islands” in a post about his visit to the Union Territory earlier this week, adding that “for those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them, Lakshadweep has to be on your list.” – PM Modi

In his official statement, neither the Prime Minister nor any other Indian government official mentioned the Maldives or any other tourist-friendly island nation when promoting Lakshadweep. So, what sparked the social media comments, and how does it relate to the Maldives government’s recent stance toward India? We explain. – PM Modi

How the comments against India began in the Maldives.

Soon after PM Modi’s post, some prominent Maldivian social media users responded with offensive, racist, xenophobic, and derogatory comments directed at Indians in general, as well as the Indian prime minister. Mariyam Shiuna, Maldives’ Deputy Minister of Youth Empowerment, Information, and Arts, wrote, “What a clown. The puppet of Israel Mr. Narendra drives with a life jacket. #VisitMaldives #SunnySideOfLife”. Shiuna also compared India to cow dung in an older post that has since been deleted.

Malsha Sharif, Shiuna’s deputy in the Maldives Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Information, and Arts, made similar disparaging remarks about India and the Lakshadweep tourism campaign. A member of the Maldives’ ruling Progressive Party also shared a photograph, believed to be of the Bora Bora islands in French Polynesia, claiming it was of a Maldivian island resort. “The sun sets in Maldives. You won’t see this in Lakshadweep. #Visit Maldives. Maaiz Mahmood wrote, “CC: @narendramodi” (sic).

A handful of local Maldivian news websites then ran sensational headlines in the Dhivehi language, claiming that India had launched a campaign against tourism in the Maldives. Other Maldivian social media users quickly jumped on board and began comparing the Maldives to the Lakshadweep islands, as well as making insulting and offensive remarks about India and Indians. – PM Modi

The situation worsened when diplomats and high-ranking officials in President Mohamed Muizzu’s government, who took office in November last year, began repeating and sharing derogatory words and content, encouraging others to do the same. Many engaged in heated debates and fights with anonymous Indian social media users. – PM Modi

In response to the Indian government’s efforts to promote tourism in the Lakshadweep, Maldives officials and supporters of the ruling coalition of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and People’s National Congress (PNC) began promoting the ‘#VisitMaldives’ hashtag, which featured photos of the country’s holiday resorts, beaches, and hotels. Some Maldivian social media users have gone so far as to claim that Lakshadweep is Maldivian territory rather than Indian. – PM Modi

What have Maldivian social media users blamed India for?

Some social media users accused India of attempting to “compete” with their country as a destination for tropical vacations.

“The move is excellent. However, the notion of competing with us is delusional. How can they provide the service that we do? How are they so clean? The permanent odor in the rooms will be the most significant disadvantage,” wrote Zahid Rameez, a Progressive Party of Maldives member and senator.

These posts also prompted other social media users to make a variety of racist remarks about Indians and Indian tourists who visit the Maldives.

According to official Maldives government figures, Indian tourists have consistently ranked among the top ten nationalities visiting the island each year. In 2023, Indians made up the largest group of tourists who visited the Maldives, with over 200,000 visitors, followed by Russians and Chinese tourists. According to a Michigan State University paper, the Maldives relies heavily on tourism, which accounts for more than 28% of its GDP.

Some Indian social media users responded to the ridicule directed at them by Maldivians by promising not to spend their vacations there and by calling for a boycott of Maldivian lodging establishments. Others discussed some of the more well-known facets of the two nations’ bilateral cooperation as well as the numerous ways that India has helped the Maldives over the years. “The values of hospitality, tolerance, peace, and harmony served as the foundation upon which we built the Maldives tourism industry. We have effectively positioned the Maldives as a top luxury resort destination by collaborative efforts with international brands and investments, including those from India, and strategic positioning.Ahmed Adeeb, the former Minister of Tourism of the Maldives, condemned the “derogatory and racist comments made by a group of Maldivian politicians towards…PM Modi and beloved citizens of India” in a post on X. He said, “Considering the global economic challenges and vulnerability of the Maldives tourism industry and economy, it is crucial for us to maintainwe must maintain a friendly and humble approach while fostering positive relations, with all nations.” – PM Modi

What causes this segment of the Maldivian population to harbor anti-Indian sentiments?

In the Maldives, anti-Indian sentiment is nothing new. The ‘India Out’ movement began as street demonstrations in the Maldives at some point in 2020, and it subsequently used the phrase along with a relevant hashtag to go viral on social media. – PM Modi

It had grown into a visible and active political campaign by the second half of 2021, driven by opponents of the administration of Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who held office from 2018 to 2023. Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom, the former president, had also publicly supported and encouraged the “India Out” movement.

Although the campaign’s backers stated that it was launched to express disapproval of what they perceived to be the military presence of India in the nation, they had deliberately targeted every facet of the bilateral relationship between India and the Maldives.

One of the primary campaign pledges made by the PPM-PNC coalition was to be fulfilled by the Muizzu government upon taking office following last year’s presidential election. On the fringes of the COP28 climate summit in December 2023, Muizzu announced that the Indian government had decided to remove its soldiers from the Maldives. The soldiers were stationed there to oversee and operate two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft that India had donated to the Maldives.

The Chinese foreign ministry announced this past week that the new Maldivian president will make a state visit to China from January 8 to 12. Analysts believe the Muizzu government is eager to forge stronger ties with China.

Have these posts received any backlash in the Maldives?

Not everyone has agreed with the officials of the Muizzu government. The president of the Maldives Reform Movement party, Ahmed Faris Maumoon, wrote on X, saying that public servants who treat heads of state and high officials of friendly nations with disrespect need to be disciplined by the government. If such harsh measures are not implemented, it could be assumed that the Maldives government approves of the derogatory remarks.

“What appalling language by Maldives Government official @shiuna_m towards the leader of a key ally, that is instrumental for Maldives’ security and prosperity,” ex-President Mohamed Nasheed wrote on X. The government of @MMuizzu must clarify that these remarks do not represent government policy and distance itself from them in order to reassure India.

The current Muizzu government’s cadre of officials has come under fire from opposition politicians and career diplomats in the Maldives, who argue that the incident has no bearing on decades of bilateral relations or Maldivian hospitality.

One complaint they have made is that certain Muizzu government officials are inexperienced and ignorant of diplomacy and their responsibilities as a nation’s representatives. As an analyst who was interviewed for this report and asked to remain anonymous stated, “While politicians or party members have the freedom to pursue volatile rhetoric while campaigning before elections, it is much harder to do so as the leader of a nation, as a government official, or as a minister.”

Some PPM-PNC coalition supporters who participated in the vigorous campaign leading up to the September presidential elections in the Maldives now hold significant positions in the government. Among them are those who were involved in this weekend’s provocative and offensive language in the Maldives Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Information, and Art.

Experienced ministers who served in the previous PPM government make up 25% of the cabinet. One thing is certain, though: each of the 12 cabinet ministers has a master’s degree or higher in education. But some of them had never held public office or worked for the government before,” a Maldivian domestic politics expert told indianexpress.com, wishing to remain anonymous.

The Maldives National Party released a statement expressing its condemnation of the racist and derogatory remarks made by a government official against a foreign head of state, shortly after the tensions on social media escalated. This can’t happen. We implore the government to prosecute those responsible as needed.

Has the Maldives’ administration responded?

Many other political parties in the opposition have spoken out and denounced the rhetoric of Muizzu’s officials almost a day after the social media escalation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives was compelled to release a statement due to the intensifying criticism. The Maldivian government is aware of disparaging comments made on social media sites about foreign dignitaries and prominent figures. The Foreign Affairs Ministry stated that it would “not hesitate to take action against those who make such derogatory remarks” and that “these opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the Government of the Maldives.”

“The Government feels that the right to free speech should be used responsibly, democratically, and in a way that doesn’t incite hatred or harm the close ties between the Maldives and its foreign allies.”

Nevertheless, Maumoon claimed in a post on X that the ministry’s statement was not “nearly sufficient.” There is a defense that government employees have the authority to defy established policy instead of an admission of guilt.

A suspected cyberattack against multiple government websites in the Maldives, including the foreign and tourism ministries, has also been reported by local media in the country. As of January 7, many of these government websites were inaccessible to Indian visitors.

On the afternoon of January 7, Bollywood stars and well-known Indian athletes launched a concerted “Visit Lakshadweep” campaign in response to the campaign against tourism in Lakshadweep. Actor Akshay Kumar publicly cited remarks “from prominent public figures from Maldives passing hateful and racist comments on Indians” in a post on X. Surprised that they are doing this to a nation that sends them the most tourists, wrote Kumar. We treat our neighbors well, so why should we put up with such unjustified animosity? I’ve been to the Maldives numerous times and have always been impressed—but first, dignity. Let’s choose to #ExploreIndianIslands and encourage domestic travel.

Why PM Modi Lakshadweep’s visit has the Maldives’ social media and government officials up in arms about India

Much to the surprise of many in the Maldives and India, unprovoked and unexpected remarks full of bigotry, xenophobia, and hate have been aimed at Indians since domestic tourism in Lakshadweep was promoted. There has been recognition of India’s diplomatic support given to the Maldives since diplomatic relations were formally established in 1965, regardless of political party, and even during the Yameen government when relations between the two countries were at an especially low point. Maldivians continue to visit India for a variety of reasons, including tourism, healthcare, and education. It is unlikely, according to analysts, that the actions of a small number of Maldivian politicians and government officials will affect larger bilateral relations.

A number of well-known Maldivian politicians have stated that the social media incident, which was sparked by certain government officials and their allies, was needless in the eyes of a neighboring nation that has maintained cordial ties with the Maldives.

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