The “India Out” campaign has intensified in the Maldives after former opposition leader Abdullah Yameen joined the protesters and started a nationwide journey to strengthen the movement.
The campaign was launched by the youth of the country in collaboration with the opposition coalition Progressive Congress Coalition in reaction to the growing Indian military footprint in the country. And the campaign has gained massive support from the general public.
However, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government has dismissed it saying it is a result of the “misplaced sentiments of few individuals.”
And the Speaker of parliament and former President of Maldives, President Mohammad Nasheed, said: “You can’t say that India Out. You absolutely cannot say that. It is against the interests of the Maldives. You absolutely cannot go around the country saying India Out.”
Earlier this week Maldives police blocked a massive rally in the capital Male calling for the removal of “Indian occupation forces” from the country. Speaking to the Maldives News Network (MNN), Male city mayor, Dr Mohamed Muizzu, said: “The police officers present at the blockade of the opposition youth-led ‘India Out’ rally had stated that the rally could not proceed with ‘India Out’ material on the rally-goers.”
Media personality-turned-youth activist Abdulla Shaayan Shahid called the blockade of rallies “an infringement on the right to freedom of expression.” He said: “This is unacceptable. We want to know what exact riot the police is saying that we have planned here. This is a peaceful rally, we want our voices to be heard, and the world should know that we want the Indian military in the Maldives to leave our country.”
Since 2018, India has significantly stepped up its aid to the Maldives. A massive Indian-funded infrastructure project has been announced that will include new bridges linking the crowded capital to three neighbouring islands. There are also plans for India to help construct a new coast guard base near Malé.
But one of the most controversial elements of India’s role involves contingents from the Indian Navy and Coast Guard in Addu as well as on islands in the centre and north of the country.
Speaking to 5Pillars, Ahmed Azaan, senior journalist and co-founder of news website Dhiyares News, said: “Simply put, we do not want the Maldives to become a protectorate of India. The ‘India Out’ movement began with India’s growing military presence in the Indian Ocean, really. The previous MDP government (2008-2012) had signed several treaties with India that saw the installation of Indian listening posts, and the stationing of two Indian military helicopters in the Maldives…
“Both the Indian and Maldivian governments had overstated their importance to national security and also maintained the lie that the assets belonged to the Maldivian military when recent evidence shows that they operate under the command of the Indian government. The government had also lied about the presence of Indian troops in the Maldives.
“More recently, an agreement was signed to build a port within 20km of the capital where India would be allowed to station armed soldiers and to berth their military vessels at the cost of the Maldivian government. The agreements signed between the MDP government and India remains classified, and have not been submitted to Parliament for their perusal (which goes against the Constitution).
“The MDP government have worked hard to discredit and even punish any opposition or criticism from the media. The mistrust we have towards India began with its behaviour during the 2013-2018 years when they had refused to comply with the Maldivian government’s request to evacuate all of their assets and personnel.
“It was a practical invasion. It also began with the rhetoric of certain BJP figures which was supportive of an invasion of the Maldives. One does not need to look beyond Sikkim, Kashmir, Bhutan, and how Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan to understand how India deals with its neighbours.
“With regards to the Maldives even the congress government were like this, but with the BJP government they have accelerated the process.”
And one of the leading youth activists, Hussain Naais told MNN: “Most of us are students; this is a youth rally to voice against Indian military people in the Maldives. I know why the police decided to obstruct us. New Indian High Commissioner is feeling the pressure now, the police is obstructing us from following his advice. They are scared that their plans are being found out. Our voice is slowly being heard by the world. India cannot station their military here. And the police cannot continue to attack our right to freedom of expression.”
Malé city’s Deputy Mayor Ahmed Nareesh said that the people of the country will end the “Indian military occupation of the country.”