Is India for Real?
State of the Union: The Maldives’ repudiation is a test for Indian regional power.
Year of grace 2024 promises to hold many, many stupid things, but the stupidest so far is the contretemps between the Maldives, a small (very small: population 521,000) island nation in the Indian Ocean, and India. The initial point of contention was a January 4 thread on X, formerly Twitter, from India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, touting India’s Lakshadweep archipelago as a vacation destination. The government of the Maldives took this as a provocation, as the Maldivian economy is disproportionately reliant on tourism from India; a number of Maldivian TKs called Modi some nasty names on X and spoke disparagingly of Indian tourists. Various Indian celebrities enthusiastically dug into the beef (so to speak), and a classic flame war was launched.
What started as good clean fun has ended in diplomatic catastrophe. The Maldives’ President Mohamed Muizzu, freshly back from a trip to China, on Sunday announced his intention to reduce his country’s dependence India; as part of this realignment, he declared that India must remove its military installations in the Maldives by March 15.
There is a line of wishful thinking in Western diplomatic and national security discussion about India serving as a counterweight to China. We have our doubts. Whether India can finesse the prospective Maldivian swing toward the People’s Republic and maintain dominance in its own back yard is a test for how effective a partner it will be in a larger anti-China coalition.