The India-Maldives Travel Controversy

Modi at a Lakshadweep Beach: the photo that started it all

The world is becoming increasingly polarized – each minor disagreement has a greater impact on bilateral relations. The latest spat happened between India and the Maldives, and it has influenced the tourism industries of both nations. This is the second such incident involving India in recent times, since Canada withdrew 41 diplomats from New Delhi in retaliation for allegations that Canada was harboring Sikh separatists. 

The fallout started with a post by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in early January, containing pictures of him relaxing on the beaches of Lakshadweep, a picturesque and remote Indian archipelago. India has no dearth of tourist destinations, with the beaches of Goa and the hill stations of the Himalayas coming to mind. Modi’s post likely was intended to bring awareness to Lakshadweep’s beauty and untapped potential. However, three Maldivian officials interpreted it as an affront to their tourism industry, which heavily relies on Indian beachgoers. They replied to Modi’s post, calling him a “clown”, “terrorist”, and “puppet of Israel”, among other things. India’s response to the insult of their beloved leader was quick and coordinated. Bollywood stars, government officials, and sportspeople encouraged Indian travelers to cancel bookings to the Maldives and promote local tourism by posting trip cancellations along with #BoycottMaldives. The Indian travel booking website suspended flight bookings to the Maldives in “solidarity with our nation”. Due to the Maldives’ reliance on India for economic reasons, the Maldivian government tried to stop the bleeding by making the officials delete their posts, suspending them from their positions, and clarifying that their “derogatory” views did not reflect those of the Maldivian government. However, these measures have done little to stop the rising number of #BoycottMaldives posts. 

As previously mentioned, India constitutes the largest tourist market of the Maldives, so a large-scale decline of Indian tourists will almost certainly affect the Maldives adversely. Former Maldivian official Ahmed Mahloof expressed his concern, stating “I’m deeply worried about the escalating situation regarding the sensitive comments about our closest neighbor. Indians boycotting the Maldives would have a huge impact on our economy. It would be hard for us to recover from such a campaign.” Mahloof brings up another reason why alienating India may prove to be dangerous for the Maldives: geography. India is not only the closest country to the Maldives, it also has military units stationed there. President of Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, has also gone on a state visit to China, India’s bitter rival. This visit aims to strengthen ties with and receive support from China in the wake of deteriorating relations with India. 

This diplomatic fallout and the one with Canada are signs of India’s ascendancy to becoming a global superpower that will not tolerate any insults. India has taken an increasingly extreme stance towards any perceived slights, as evidenced by their expulsion of the 41 Canadian diplomats and the boycott of the Maldives. It remains to be seen how angering India will affect the Maldivian economy in the long term.

About the Author

Sadkrith Malladi
Hello! My name is Sadkrith and I am a junior living in 1505. I enjoy playing chess, casual basketball, reading, and of course writing.

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