Muizzu sticks to ‘Out India’ campaign
Maldives President elect Mohammed Muizzu has made the withdrawal of Indian troops from the Island nation as his topmost priority as he won the electoral mandate on “Out India” campaign. He made his intentions evident when Indian Ambassador to Maldives Monu Mahawar called on the President-elect on October 4. Muizzu's priority one after he swears in as President of Maldives on November 17 is asking Indian troops to leave within a week.
Even though the President elect is following the footsteps of his mentor former president Abdulla Yameen on withdrawal of Indian troops and proximity to China, the fact is that the Indian contingent was present in Maldives for disaster relief and not for launching any overt or covert military operations either within or outside the country.
India shares a deep-rooted relationship with Maldives that goes back to several centuries. India was the first nation to recognise Maldives as an independent nation in 1965 and establish diplomatic ties. Both the countries were victims of colonial oppression and loot, and shared a common vision of independent growth and development. India has always been the first responder to Maldives in times of not only emergency but also long-term capacity building initiatives. Both countries are vibrant democracies. These may well be the reasons why India and Maldives are natural partners in need and in deed.
India has been closely involved in the capacity building and capability enhancement endeavors for defence and security infrastructure in Maldives. India reaffirmed its role as a net security provider by gifting Coast Guard Ship Huravee in 2006 to Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) for combating transnational crimes and enhancing coastal surveillance. In May 2023, India handed over a replacement ship of Trikant-class to MNDF. India also provides regular training to MNDF personnel at various Indian establishments. Humanitarian assistance such as medical evacuations, search and rescue missions and regular maritime patrolling to prevent transnational crimes and drug trafficking are important milestones of this journey of defence cooperation between India and Maldives.
Humanitarian assistance is one of the key activities that are undertaken by the Indian aviation team under the leadership of MNDF. The Maldives isle being separated by water bodies between individual islands, transportation and mobility is a major impediment especially during medical evacuation under life threatening circumstances. This drawback is largely being catered for by the Indian aircraft (two helicopters and one Dornier), providing emergency assistance from the topmost to the lowermost strata of the Maldivian community and hence saving lives. Medical evacuation missions are the difference between life and death, where every second is invaluable. These aircraft, the first of which was provided at the request of the Government of Maldives in 2010, are equipped with advanced medical equipment and trained medical personnel, which are capable of swiftly evacuating critically ill or injured individuals to the mainland for specialised treatment. This capability ensures that medical emergencies can be addressed promptly, thus saving lives and mitigating suffering. They were not equipped to carry out troop insertions as India's adversaries would like to project.
The statistics are eye opening. In the last five years, Indian aircraft have saved more than 500 precious lives (evacuees range from one day old baby to 97-year-old lady) through medical evacuations from all across Maldives even in the difficult weather conditions. These aircraft have carried a large number of patients from remote islands to regional healthcare centers or the capital's hospital. In these endeavors, MNDF are ably and critically assisted by the Indian contingent and delivery platforms.
These operations however, are carried out under challenging circumstances. These aircraft operate with limited support infrastructure and facilities from the island. During the period of operation, these aircraft have maintained a high state of serviceability which is achieved through close coordination with various support agencies such as the Service Headquarters, Liaison units, depot, overseeing facilities and OEMs. The support services from India are stupendous and persistent in a way that the aircraft is always ready for round the clock operations. Being an outstation unit with limited resources, the units always go an extra mile through innovation and resourcefulness to achieve the otherwise unachievable maintenance challenges. This has showcased the commitment of the aviation teams to provide best services to the Maldives.
There is a close working relationship between MNDF and Indian teams. Friendly sports competitions are also organised between the MNDF and Indian personnel to enhance bonhomie. The Indian team also maintains a warm and cordial relationship with the local Maldivian population and organises events on all the major celebrations of both countries.
The close relations between India and Maldives have traversed beyond the constructs of defence and hard security. The ‘India Out' campaign in Maldives may try to give a negative connotation to the Indian aviation support but in reality, their role is of saving lives and making a difference in the life of the common Maldivian. And President-elect Muizzu needs to understand that