Maldives suspends officials for insulting Indian PM

The Maldives have suspended three deputy ministers for offensive comments about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media, leading to calls for a boycott and escalating diplomatic tensions amid President Mohamed Muizzu's state visit to China.

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FILE PHOTO: President of the Maldives Mohamed Muizzu delivers a national statement at the World Climate Action Summit during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky/File Photo

The Maldives government has suspended three deputy ministers for disparaging comments regarding India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid all worked for the archipelago’s Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Information and Arts and were disciplined for their comments on social media.

The three had labelled Indian prime minister Narendra Modi a “clown”, “terrorist” and “puppet of Israel” on social media platform X, in response to a video of him visiting the Indian islands of Lakshadweep to promote local tourism. Some viewed his visit as trying to draw tourists away from the globally popular Maldives, whose 1,192 islands in the Indian Ocean are dotted with luxury resorts.

Shiuna also drew a comparison between India and cow dung. This sparked outrage on Indian social media, leading to trending hashtags such as #BoycottMaldives and #ExploreIndianIslands. Some individuals expressed their intention to cancel their holidays to the Maldives, with Indians being a significant group of tourists to the country last year. The CEO of the Indian ticket-booking site EaseMyTrip mentioned that his company had suspended all flight bookings to the Maldives.

A spokesperson from President Mohamed Muizzu’s office informed that all government officials responsible for the comments have been immediately suspended from their positions. Tensions between India and the island nation were already heightened after President Muizzu requested the departure of approximately 75 Indian troops following his assumption of power last year.

The Maldives, known for its silver sand beaches, resorts, and coral islands, faced criticism from prominent Indians, including Bollywood stars and certain cricketers. Former Maldivian president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih strongly condemned what he described as “hateful language against India” by the three officials, underscoring the longstanding friendship between the two countries.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed labelled the language in the social media posts as “appalling.” The controversial posts were deleted after the public outcry. On Monday, the Maldives’s High Commissioner to India, Ibrahim Shaheeb, was observed leaving the Indian foreign ministry’s office in Delhi.

India’s envoy to the Maldives also visited the country’s foreign ministry on Monday, but the High Commission clarified that it was a “pre-arranged meeting” to discuss bilateral issues.

This controversy precedes Muizzu’s five-day state visit to India’s rival, China, starting Monday. Muizzu’s choice of Beijing for his first international visit since taking office in November is perceived as a diplomatic setback for Delhi, which is working to counter China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. 

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