Mohammed Muizzu spoke about ‘India-out’ approach in almost empty Maldives Parliament

Muizzu, who won the presidential election last September, made it clear that he sees his mandate as ensuring the “removal” of foreign troops, i.e. 77 unarmed Indian military personnel, who have been deployed to the Maldives under agreements signed between the two countries.

President Mohammed Muizzu on Monday told the Maldivian Parliament that his government came to power demanding the removal of foreign troops from the Maldives, return of lost territory and ending “harmful agreements”.

However, his maiden address to the People’s Majlis (Parliament of the Maldives) was poorly attended – only 24 MPs of the 87-member House – as the top two opposition parties boycotted Muizzoo’s speech. They are against Muizzu’s staunch “anti-India” ideology and hold the majority in the House.

“The support of the majority of Maldivians for our government to remove foreign troops from this land, reclaim lost territory from Maldivian waters and reject any deal that harms Maldivian sovereignty and an agreement Is.” Muizzoo said.

In Parliament, Muizzu announced a phased removal of Indian military personnel, with the first group leaving the island by 10 March and the second group by 10 May 2024. Muizzoo referred to the agreement announced by the Maldives Foreign Ministry on Friday.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Maldives, India and Maldives agreed on a phased replacement of troops during the second meeting of the high-level Core Group held in New Delhi. The statement issued by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday made no mention of the agreement.

The 77 unarmed personnel deployed in Maldives, apart from training the Maldivian Army, operate and maintain two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters and one Dornier aircraft gifted to the Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF).

Helicopters were used for medical evacuation from various islands in the archipelago, saving around 500 lives from January 2019 to the end of 2023.

Muizzu also clarified that he has no intention of renewing the existing hydrographic agreement with India. The agreement allowed India to comprehensively study the territorial waters of the island nation and was signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Maldives on 8 June 2019. Its renewal was to take place in June 2024.

According to Adhaadhu, Muizzoo said, “It has also been officially informed that the State of Maldives will not renew the agreement that gives India substantial rights to chart the boundaries and seabed of the Maldives.”

In another sign of India’s downplaying of its role in the Maldives, Muizzu vowed to ensure the ability of the Maldivian armed forces to conduct round-the-clock patrolling in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This is a task that India has historically undertaken in partnership with the Government of Maldives.

Earlier in January, Maldives had signed a $37 million deal with Turkey to purchase military drones for patrolling the high seas, ThePrint reported. In recent years Turkey has emerged as one of the largest exporters of drones, both armed and unarmed.

Relations between India and Maldives have been strained after three deputy ministers – now suspended – made derogatory remarks against Modi in January.

Social media users promoted tourism in Lakshadweep after Modi visited the union territory and urged Indians to spend time on the island. This brought insulting reactions from the three deputy ministers.

The comment caused an uproar and Indians called for a boycott of tourism in the Maldives. Since the call, Indians have fallen from being the number one source for tourists to the island archipelago in 2023 to fifth place this year, according to data published by the Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism.