India tightens its grip on the Maldives – OpEd – Eurasia Review
India is tightening its grip on the Maldives with three recent steps: it is believed to have been the main force behind the election of Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid as President of the 76th session of the General Assembly of Nations United. This led Shahid to accept IFS officer Kakanur Nagaraj Naidu as his Chief of Staff. He unilaterally announced that he would establish a consulate in the strategically important Addu Atoll in the southern Maldives.
On the occasion of the opening of a consulate in Addu, Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih said that no decision had been taken on this matter. Solih’s hesitation is perhaps due to the opposition to the Indian project of some Maldivians speaking through the hasstag #SaveAddu. Or Solih himself is annoyed by the unilateral announcement of New Delhi.
Either way, the consulate is expected to be set up eventually, as President Solih would be hard-pressed to ignore India, given India’s growing financial grip on his government. India has injected a lot of money (around US $ 3 billion) to execute projects and strengthen the finances of the Maldives. The objective is to counter China, which completely controlled the previous government led by Abdulla Yameen.
India’s economic footprint
India has extended its economic footprint to the Maldives since Solih came to power by winning the 2018 presidential election. Maldives Financial Review (MFR) India has pledged substantial investments in the development of a cancer hospital, several residential housing projects and a cricket stadium, among others. These lines of credit are also mostly loans, and figures show that India is providing more than $ 3 billion to the country through various channels, according to the LIM.
He further indicates that India is working on military-type collaborations. Two helicopters were donated to the MNDF by the Indian army, as well as the military to operate them, which have admittedly so far been used more for humanitarian needs than for military purposes. In addition, the Maldives and India have agreed to establish a radar system operated by India in the archipelago with the aim of enhancing surveillance of the Indian Ocean region. There is an Indian funded police training institute in Addu.
“More recently, the Indian government has pledged to build a shipyard in the Maldives, officially describing it as to be managed and used by the MNDF coastguard as a maintenance and assembly area,” the MFR added.
Two points of view on the consulate
Supporters of India’s plan to open a consulate in Addu city say it will prevent residents of the Maldives’ second-largest city from having to travel 535 km by plane to the capital Malé to obtain their visas to travel to Maldives. India for study and medical care. treatment. According to The Hindu even after the onset of the pandemic, at least 8,000 visas were issued to Maldivians for medical and educational reasons.
But the opposition thinks that the consulate in Addu would eventually lead to the establishment of an Indian military base like the British during World War II. A social media campaign under the hashtag #SaveAddu is currently being waged against this plan.
Addu’s strategic value
There is reason to believe that the real reason for New Delhi’s interest in Addu is not visa issuance but strategic. Addu Atoll, in particular Gan Island, is strategically located in the Indian Ocean. This fact prompted the British to establish an air and naval base there before World War II broke out east of Suez.
The Maldives have become an essential link in the Allied defenses against the Japanese in the Indian Ocean. According to Jonathan Kearney, Addu Atoll, the southernmost atoll in the Maldives, has become the most important strategic outpost of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Forces in the Indian Ocean.
Exploiting their suzerainty over the Maldives, the British secretly built a base at Addu in 1941. According to Kearney, Gan Island in the atoll has been completely cleared of vegetation to make way for a runway. Its villagers have been relocated. A seaplane base was built in the Hithadhoo Lagoon, where planes arrived from as far away as Singapore and Sri Lanka. Underground bunkers for supplies and bombs were built at Maradhoo. A series of causeways have been built between the main islands, Kearney wrote in 2020.
“RAF Gan was a busy and important base. It covered one of the largest aerial research areas in the world and handled thousands of planes and passengers during its operation, ”he added.
At that time, the enemy was never far from Addu. German U-boats patrolled the waters. In March 1944, the German submarine U-183 fired through the Gan Canal, torpedoing the tanker British loyalty which was anchored in the lagoon of Addu.
Interestingly, the men who served and died in Addu Atoll were mostly Indians, members of Indian regiments stationed there soon after the base was built.
Continuing Kearney: “At the end of World War II, the RAF wanted to maintain this strategic position in Addu, by building a new air base in Gan and a radiocommunication center in Hithadhoo in 1957. It was a refueling station and ideal refueling. on the road connecting the UK to Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and the rest of East Asia.
A lease was granted to the British to occupy the island of Addu Gan Atoll for 30 years, an agreement which was confirmed after the Maldives gained independence in 1965. But the British withdrew from Addu in 1976, before the lease expires, Kearney recalls.
Offer from the Maldivian government
In 1976, the government of Maldives invited “offers or proposals from those wishing to lease Gan Island and facilities for purposes deemed reasonable”. The facilities mentioned included an internationally standard 2.6 km track. long, a 2.5 megawatt diesel power plant, modern airfield aids including radar, and a medical center “capable of caring for victims of plane crashes if the need arises. “.
Also announced as part of the Gan complex was “a developed satellite town with transit and living facilities for around 700 people including a hotel with indoor and outdoor leisure facilities including squash courts, tennis courts , a 15 hole golf course, a swimming pool, a badminton course and gymnasium ‘. In addition, there were “several messes and individual clubs with adjoining catering facilities used by the Royal Air Force”. Gan also had a deep water anchorage and development potential as a naval base.
But the Maldives did not want Addu to be used as a military base. The deputy head of the Foreign Ministry at the time, Fathulla Jameel, reportedly said: “We joined the non-aligned movement last month and attended the summit conference in Sri Lanka. So now it should be doubly clear that Gan is not for hire as a military base ”.
One worrying aspect for Maldivians today is that Addu Atoll experienced a secessionist “Suvadives” movement between 1959 and 1963 supported by the British. He was shot dead by military force by the then government in Male. Secessionist leader Abdulla Afeef fled to the then British colony of Seychelles, where he was granted political asylum. The British left the Maldives soon after in 1965, giving the Maldives full independence.
With the current growth of Chinese power and the formation of an alliance between India, the United States, Japan and Australia known as the “Quad”, the Maldives has once again become attractive to world powers and regional competitors seeking an exclusive strategic advantage at the western end of the Indian Ocean.