India reaffirms commitment to military presence in Maldives as regional tensions continue to grow

During his campaign, President Muizzu pledged to steer his country away from its longstanding “India First” policy, raising concerns in New Delhi about the future trajectory of bilateral relations.

India has once again affirmed its dedication to retaining its military personnel stationed in the Maldives, even as bilateral relations between the two nations face escalating strains. Indian Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar, in an interview on Thursday, provided clarity amidst swirling speculations, asserting that the Indian government has not issued any directives mandating the withdrawal of defence personnel from the island nation, despite a purported request from Male.

The underlying tension between India and the Maldives stems from the political landscape following President Mohamed Muizzu’s electoral triumph last year. During his campaign, President Muizzu pledged to steer his country away from its longstanding “India First” policy, raising concerns in New Delhi about the future trajectory of bilateral relations. Moreover, Muizzu’s subsequent call for the withdrawal of Indian troops by March 15 has further exacerbated the diplomatic standoff, signalling a potential pivot towards cultivating stronger ties with China, a move perceived as a direct challenge to India’s regional influence in the Indian Ocean.

Against this backdrop, Admiral R. Hari Kumar’s statement assumes significance, offering insights into India’s strategic calculus in the region. Emphasizing the government’s stance, he reiterated that the Indian Navy stands ready to abide by directives from New Delhi, but as of now, no communication has been received regarding the withdrawal of defence personnel from the Maldives. This steadfastness highlights India’s commitment to maintaining its strategic presence in the Indian Ocean region despite evolving geopolitical dynamics.

Currently, approximately 80 Indian soldiers are stationed in the Maldives, playing a critical role in shaping India’s interests in the archipelago nation. Beyond traditional military duties, these personnel provide crucial support for military equipment supplied by India and actively participate in humanitarian endeavours, thereby solidifying India’s standing as a reliable partner in the region.

The evolving situation in the Indian Ocean region no doubt explains the crucial sphere of modern geopolitics, where traditional alliances are subject to reevaluation amidst shifting power dynamics. With China’s expanding footprint in the region, India faces a delicate balancing act in safeguarding its interests while navigating the geopolitical landscape. The decision to maintain its military presence in the Maldives reaffirms India’s resolve to protect its strategic interests and preserve its influence in the face of external challenges.