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Thursday, July 18, 2024

India sets up naval base near Maldives amid diplomatic row

Relations between New Delhi and its island neighbor have been strained as the latter boosts ties with China

The Indian Navy will commission a second naval base in the Lakshadweep Islands off its west coast amid an ongoing diplomatic row with the neighboring archipelago nation of Maldives. The new Maldivian government, led by President Mohamed Muizzu, is seen as cultivating closer ties with China while distancing itself from New Delhi.

The Navy will commission a detachment, the INS Jatayu, on Minicoy, the southernmost island of the “strategically important” Lakshadweep Islands, on March 6, according to an official statement. “The event marks an important milestone in the Navy’s resolve to incrementally augment security infrastructure” in the region, the statement noted.

Read more: India’s Rejection of ‘Imported Ideologies’: Foreign Minister’s Stance

The Indian Navy said the base will “enhance the operational reach” and facilitate its anti-piracy and anti-drug operations in the Western Arabian Sea. It will also bolster the Navy’s capability as “first responder” to threats and incidents in the region while also helping to improve connectivity with the Indian mainland.

Lakshadweep was at the center of a controversy earlier this year as Prime Minister Narendra Modi elicited the ire of Maldivian officials for promoting tourism on the islands on social media in what was seen as an attempt to draw visitors away from the Maldives. Known as a luxury destination, the island nation is predominantly dependent on tourism for its economy. In recent years, Indian tourists have emerged as a key source of income for the Maldives.

While Muizzu’s government distanced itself from comments about the Indian leader made by three ministers and suspended them, they were later reinstated.

The row, however, erupted against the backdrop of a bigger diplomatic dispute over the Indian military presence in the island nation. The removal of Indian troops was one of Muizzu’s key pitches ahead of the election last year and he put in the formal request with New Delhi shortly after his victory. In January, India was given a deadline of March 15 to withdraw its troops. Last week, a technical team from India reached the Maldives to replace the troops operating aircraft on the islands.

Read more: Indian Navy Chief Touts BrahMos Missile as Defense Mainstay

The developments also come as Muizzu’s government has been forging closer ties with China, which is seen as a cause of concern for India. New Delhi has been vocal about Beijing’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean for several years. In January, India raised concerns over alleged “spying” activities of a Chinese research vessel heading to the Maldivian capital of Malé. The Maldives, however, said it was acting upon a diplomatic request from Beijing to make a port call “for the rotation of personnel.”

Muizzu previously remarked that no country had the license to “bully us,” in what was believed to be an indirect reference to New Delhi. India’s foreign minister last week argued that “bullies don’t provide $4.5 billion” when neighbors are in trouble, taking a veiled jab at the Maldivian leadership. He also suggested that India should do “better” than China in cultivating strong ties in the neighborhood.