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Lecturrete topic 316 - India-Maldives Relations



The India-Maldives relationship is a cornerstone of India's foreign policy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). As two close neighbors sharing historical, cultural, and economic ties, the bilateral relationship between India and the Maldives has been marked by mutual respect, cooperation, and a shared vision for regional stability and prosperity. This article explores the evolution, key aspects, and future trajectory of India-Maldives relations, highlighting significant areas such as defense, economic cooperation, environmental sustainability, and cultural ties.

Historical Context

Early Historical Ties

India and the Maldives have a long history of interaction dating back to ancient times, facilitated by their geographical proximity. Historical records indicate that trade, cultural exchanges, and religious influences between the Indian subcontinent and the Maldivian archipelago were well-established. The spread of Buddhism from India to the Maldives, followed by the introduction of Islam, shaped the socio-cultural landscape of the Maldives.

Post-Independence Era

The Maldives gained independence from British protection in 1965, and India was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the newly independent nation. The relationship has since been characterized by India's supportive role in the Maldives' development journey and India's strategic interest in maintaining stability in the IOR.

Strategic and Defense Cooperation

Security Partnership

The strategic importance of the Maldives in the IOR cannot be overstated. Situated along key international shipping routes, the Maldives' stability is crucial for regional maritime security.

  • Operation Cactus (1988): One of the most notable instances of India's defense cooperation with the Maldives occurred in 1988 during Operation Cactus. India swiftly responded to a coup attempt against then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom by deploying military forces, successfully restoring the legitimate government. This intervention reinforced India's role as a security guarantor in the Maldives.
  • Defense Agreements: Over the years, India and the Maldives have signed several defense agreements to enhance cooperation. The India-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2009 facilitated joint military exercises, training, and capacity-building initiatives. Additionally, India's gifting of patrol vessels to the Maldivian Coast Guard has bolstered maritime security.

Contemporary Defense Collaboration

India continues to play a vital role in the Maldives' defense infrastructure development. In 2021, India extended a $50 million line of credit to the Maldives for defense projects. Joint military exercises such as "Ekuverin" underscore the growing defense ties between the two nations, focusing on counter-terrorism and maritime security.

Economic and Developmental Cooperation

Trade and Investment

Economic cooperation forms a significant pillar of India-Maldives relations. Despite the Maldives' small size, the bilateral trade and investment flows are substantial, driven by tourism, fisheries, and infrastructural development.

  • Trade Statistics: In 2019-20, bilateral trade between India and the Maldives stood at $288.99 million, with India exporting goods worth $276.01 million and importing goods worth $12.98 million from the Maldives. Major Indian exports include agricultural products, pharmaceuticals, and engineering goods.
  • Investment Initiatives: Indian businesses have shown growing interest in investing in the Maldives' tourism and infrastructure sectors. Indian companies are involved in key projects, such as the expansion of the Maldives' main airport and the development of resorts.

Development Assistance

India's developmental assistance to the Maldives spans various sectors, including health, education, infrastructure, and capacity building.

  • Grant Aid: India has provided grant aid for several projects, including the construction of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Malé, one of the largest healthcare facilities in the Maldives.
  • Lines of Credit: India has extended multiple lines of credit to finance infrastructure projects. In 2020, India announced a $500 million package, comprising a $100 million grant and a $400 million line of credit, for the Greater Malé Connectivity Project, aimed at improving connectivity between Malé and neighboring islands.


Tourism is a critical sector for the Maldivian economy, and India is a significant source of tourists for the Maldives.

  • Tourist Arrivals: In 2019, India became the second-largest source of tourists for the Maldives, contributing over 200,000 visitors. The growth in Indian tourist arrivals underscores the strong people-to-people ties between the two nations.

Environmental Cooperation

Climate Change and Sustainable Development

The Maldives, as a low-lying island nation, is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. India has been a steadfast partner in supporting the Maldives' efforts to combat climate change and promote sustainable development.

  • Climate Resilience Projects: India has supported various projects aimed at enhancing climate resilience in the Maldives. This includes the provision of desalination plants to address freshwater scarcity and the implementation of renewable energy projects.
  • International Cooperation: Both countries collaborate closely in international forums, advocating for greater action on climate change. India has supported the Maldives' initiatives within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Blue Economy

India and the Maldives have shown interest in developing the blue economy, focusing on sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and ocean ecosystem health.

  • Fisheries Cooperation: Given the Maldives' reliance on fisheries, India has provided technical assistance and capacity-building support to enhance sustainable fishing practices.
  • Marine Research: Collaborative efforts in marine research aim to protect the rich biodiversity of the Indian Ocean and ensure sustainable exploitation of marine resources.

Cultural and Educational Ties

Cultural Exchange

Cultural ties between India and the Maldives are deep-rooted, reflecting centuries of interaction and shared heritage.

  • Cultural Programs: The Indian Cultural Centre in Malé, established by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), plays a significant role in promoting Indian culture through various programs and events.
  • Festivals and Exchanges: Regular cultural festivals and exchanges, including music, dance, and art exhibitions, have fostered mutual understanding and appreciation.

Educational Cooperation

Education is another key area of cooperation, with India providing numerous opportunities for Maldivian students to pursue higher education.

  • Scholarships and Training: India offers several scholarships to Maldivian students under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program and the ICCR scholarships. These programs cover various fields, including engineering, medicine, and management.
  • Institutional Support: Indian educational institutions have established collaborations with Maldivian counterparts to enhance the quality of education and training in the Maldives.

Challenges and Future Prospects

Strategic Concerns

While the relationship between India and the Maldives remains strong, there are occasional strategic concerns that need careful management.

  • Geopolitical Rivalries: The Maldives' strategic location has attracted interest from other regional powers, notably China. India's challenge is to maintain its influence and ensure that the Maldives remains aligned with its strategic interests while respecting Maldivian sovereignty.
  • Domestic Political Dynamics: The domestic political landscape in the Maldives can sometimes impact bilateral relations. India's approach has been to engage with all political factions in the Maldives to maintain stability and continuity in the relationship.

Future Prospects

The future of India-Maldives relations looks promising, with several initiatives on the horizon.

  • Enhanced Connectivity: The Greater Malé Connectivity Project is expected to significantly improve connectivity within the Maldives, boosting economic activity and integration.
  • Defense and Security: Continued cooperation in defense and security, including joint exercises and capacity building, will strengthen the strategic partnership.
  • Sustainable Development: Joint efforts in combating climate change and promoting sustainable development will remain a priority, with India supporting the Maldives' initiatives on international platforms.


India-Maldives relations, underpinned by historical ties, mutual respect, and strategic cooperation, continue to thrive in the contemporary geopolitical landscape. The multifaceted partnership encompasses defense, economic cooperation, environmental sustainability, and cultural exchange. As both nations navigate the complexities of regional dynamics and global challenges, their relationship is poised to deepen further, contributing to regional stability and prosperity. The shared vision for a secure, stable, and prosperous Indian Ocean Region ensures that India and the Maldives will continue to be close partners in the years to come.