DEBATE - Boycott Maldives: A Diplomatic Masterstroke or Strategic Blunder? | Akash Banerjee
If you go on social media, you will see a war between India and Maldives. Some Maldives politicians wrote anti-India and anti-Hindu posts to please their constituency What happened next could be handled diplomatically ... our Jaishankar ji can easily show Maldives politicians their place But it has become one of the biggest boycott movements in India.
If we talk about boycott Bollywood and boycott Pathan, then this boycott trend of Maldives has probably gone beyond that The problem is that the boycott of Pathan failed. Pathan became a super hit, a movie worth 1000 crores. What is going to happen here? Because this boycott is not only a boycott to stop tourists. Even if no tourist goes there, even if not one Indian goes to Maldives, this boycott can backfire for our country.
And someone else is smiling behind when this whole mess is going on. How it can backfire, we will know in today's episode. How this 300 square kilometer country matters so much. Whether someone goes or not, what difference does it make Why is this war a social media creation? Hyper nationalistic frenzy, and how it can make things worse - let's understand that today It all started as usual ... PM Modi had reached Lakshadweep and photoshoot was going on Walking on pristine beaches, snorkeling and enjoying natural beauty of Lakshadweep Remember, Modi government never targeted or challenged anyone.
His fans and ultra-nationalists did that on social media. When they saw PM Modi, they were like - why not make Lakshadweep as an alternate holiday destination versus Maldives? We have a habit of having a versus, so to develop or promote Lakshadweep, we have to have a versus Maldives. Ultra-nationalists are not only in our country but also in Maldives Some ultra-nationalist websites in Maldives started to publish this trend citing these tweets They started to publish in their headlines that the Indian government is launching a campaign to challenge Maldivian tourism.
Maldivian social media users also caught this trend. They had already an anti-India sentiment. I'll explain why.. They then started writing disparaging remarks As ultra nationalists are here, they also have ultra nationalists. So they started insulting remarks The new govt in Maldives has come to power on anti India sentiment ... they saw opportunity and wrote few tweets Among them, there were three deputy ministers. It is important to say that there are about 200 ministers and deputy ministers - 3 of the youth ones wrote negative stuff. The move is great. However, the idea of competing with us is delusional. How can they provide the service we offer? How can they be so clean? The permanent smell in the rooms will be the biggest downfall. It is very sad that a big country like India is trying to make money by copying a small economy like Sri Lanka.
And Deputy Minister Mariam is one step ahead... she called Modi ji a clown and puppet. The tweet was deleted but they received a lot of backlash A digital tsunami fell on Maldives Many people in India were very angry and it was understandable People were debating and clashing but you are a minister from the govt and should not have written tweets like that. There is a reaction from the other side as well. Maldives Association of Tourism Industry - MATI says, we strongly condemn these derogatory comments.
The tweets of Deputy Minister against PM Narendra Modi on his Lakshadweep visit - we don't stand by it. Here in India, the Confederation of All India Traders or CATI, said that domestic traders and exporters should restrain - don't do business with Maldives. Former deputy speaker of Maldives, Eva Abdulla, said that these comments are shameful and racist. She apologized and told Indians to stop the boycott campaign. She said that the outrage is understandable. Indians are rightfully angry, the comments are outrageous. But can these comments shake the entire strategic and diplomatic relations of a country? Or is there another story behind these shaking relations? We need to understand this.
The Maldives envoy in India was also summoned and questioned. Action was quick -The deputy ministers who wrote the comments have been suspended. Maldives foreign ministry said they were aware of the remarks. They have written their personal views and it is not a government position. They distanced from the remarks. You will say that this boycott move was a success Now, here comes the complicated issue of geopolitics and diplomacy.
Boycott Maldives trend will have long term ramification Because these things are done through a government, diplomatic channel. But our thin-skinned social media warriors who are always angry about something, boycott Bollywood was not working, so now they will boycott Maldives But they will have to understand that you cannot beat up your neighbors and put them in submission like you do with other journalists. Celebrities talk about Maldives so easily. They can't talk about unemployment, inflation, Bikis Bano, Manipur. But when it comes to Maldives, tweet after tweet...
Akshay, who used to have fun in Maldives, now says that there is no need to go to Maldives. There was a comedy of errors when Kiran Rijiju, Ranveer, Amitabh Bachchan are tweeting or retweeting, where it is said no need to travel Maldives, go to Lakshadweep; but image is of Maldives Amitabh Bachchan, who always numbers his tweets, this time he had tweeted unnumbered, supporting Virendra Sehwag - that no need to go to Maldives Although, by mistake, Veeru Bhai tweeted a photo of Bora Bora Island of French Polynesia But you can see the situation that they don't know where is Lakshadweep? What are the photos of Lakshadweep - but they are ready to boycott Maldives. In this same situation, companies said that they will also take the opportunity. Ease my trip, a travel company said that they are cancelling all their bookings of Maldives
Other travel companies have said that Lakshadweep has jumped by 3400% in searches related to Lakshadweep. Now, they will make different packages for Lakshadweep. It is a good thing. Make packages. I will tell you the comparison of Lakshadweep and Maldives. But why is this issue damaging? There are two levels of contact with Maldives. Government to government contact and people to people contact. If you look at people to people contact, you will see how our people to people contact has degenerated over time. Whether we talk about Sri Lanka or Bangladesh in specific,
the country we played such a big role in making, the people of that country hate us a lot. The way social media and mainstream media have spread poison between communities is the reason The second issue is government to government contact. When you are boycotting Maldives, when you are actively encouraging it, when your ministers are involved in it, this uncle is smiling in China and saying that our plan is more successful. So, who is getting the most benefit from this boycott of Maldives? China.
Because if you look at other sources, if you understand, if you talk to travel sources, who have been following Maldives for many years, they will tell you that it is not only India that is causing tourism in Maldives. Today, it is 10% But before that, people from many other places come to Maldives. People come from Europe, Russia. 20% of people used to come to Maldives from China. Due to pandemic and the controls in China after the pandemic, this number decreased. And India's number increased because Maldives was our nearest international destination where no paperwork was required.
So, this alternative, the idea that Lakshadweep will become an alternative to Maldives if we snap our fingers, that is not the case either - because it has a lot of infrastructural issues it is very important to explain that the way Delhi should deal with Maldives should be a kid's glove treatment. Not us versus them treatment This is about a Maldives that is slowly moving away from India and is sitting in China's lap. In this boycott Maldives, it is very important to understand geopolitics. India, Maldives, China and how China is trying to encircle us by using Maldives? Prime Minister Modi signed a Joint Hydrographic Survey Pact in 2019. It was a symbol of Indo-Maldives defence ties. New government comes ... a China favoring govt
First of all, it cancels the agreement. No Joint Hydrographic Survey will be held on Maldives water In Indian strategic circles, people are already aware that Maldives is going out of our sphere of influence. Not only that, they don't want to have defence engagement with India. So, Maldivian president skipped high security meeting in Colombo Maldivian president goes to Turkey after the inauguration. He is in China now. He doesn't come to India. While the first port of call is to meet the Indian establishment.
President Muizzu is reversing his predecessor's policy. Because they say they are in danger from India and that is how they came to power - they told military personnel to return You can understand the next step of this. If India's army goes out from there, then which country's army wants to come in and sit there India has shown its strong objection. The Maldives envoy has already been called and he has been slammed
But what further action will be taken by the Maldives on these three junior ministers? It is said that the decision will be taken when President Mohamed Muizzu returns from Beijing. And here comes the geopolitical twist. Were they just small time young ministers who did not know what to say on social media or try to get cheap points like usual politicians try to do in such a situation or there are people in the security establishment who believe that it is possible that the President approved this before his China trip to show that they are with China and speaking against India because one thing is clear The strategic interest of Xi is to set up his ports in Indian Ocean. If Gwadar port in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Beijing wants to invest Chinese money in Maldives, be it in debt, that is even better.
Look at the headlines in Hindu. Today's headlines... Maldives president is calling China as a valued ally and integral collaborator. Don't miss the significance of this line. Within two days, within 48 hours, India was abused and China is being called an integral collaborator. President Muizzu will meet President Xi and Premier Li Qiang, touring China China wants to expand infrastructure and tourism. China's influence in Maldives will increase. India Out campaign was brought in November. And suddenly, you can see what is happening.
Muizzu wants to export fish products to China. Free trade agreement will bring in a lot of money Fishing is the largest source of employment, 99% of Maldives is in the sea. 98% of aquatic products are exported. Who will take 98% of the export? This is the model used by China for Bangladesh China and Bangladesh have traded for $25 billion. Can't China make textiles? Yes, but I will still give 98% duty free treatment. 98% duty free treatment China is like - export to us, earn money and come under our sphere of influence.
China is already working on the Belt and Road Initiative. China is also planning to expand Maldives airport. China is already building a bridge called the China Maldives Friendship Bridge. So, Muizzu is saying that their government is keen to explore this partnership of Belt and Road. So, they can also get a share of Chinese influence for growth Chinese firms have already invested $1.37 billion in Maldives. This money will grow. We need to understand this before we boycott Maldives We are talking of 10% tourism. China was the number one tourist nation in 2019 - 19.7% of all foreign visitors. This was before the pandemic. This could be after the pandemic. So don't be mistaken that our tourism is sustaining Maldives But do understand that a country is sitting and is watching the dog and cat fight. Who will take the bread? And they are laughing.
People to people contact is also getting less along with government contact. Now, let's come to the final point. Many people say that Lakshadweep can be the alternative to Maldives. It can be, but we question if it should be. Chetan Bhagat has written an article that it is time for Lakshadweep. Let's look at some facts. I am repeating myself. It's not that we can't develop a tourist destination. There is a lot of work going on in tourism.
But Lakshadweep, which is a small, eco-sensitive area, can we compare it with Maldives? There is one airline that operates flights from Cochin International Airport to Lakshadweep. It is not even an airport. You are saying that you will compete with Maldives where 60 big airlines can fill up their flights. Indian airlines carry 58-60 flights every week. There are 6 passenger ships operating between Cochin and Lakshadweep. It takes 14-18 hours to reach there. You don't have speed boats or jet boats. It takes 14-18 hours by water.
The entire Maldives is 40 to 140 km from the capital The speed boat and seaplane connectivity is there You need an entry permit to visit the Lakshadweep area. I support this to preserve eco sensitive area. But if you want to promote tourism, you need a clearance certificate from the local police station. Valid identification documents, passport size photographs, You have to submit an entry permit and pay Rs 50. It takes 10-15 days to get the permit, submitted upon arrival More complicated than visa on arrival On the other hand, there is visa on arrival provision in Maldives. Just pack your bags and travel to Maldives
As far as competition is concerned, there is not drinking water Recently PM Modi has talked about installing a low temperature thermal desalination plant there So that water can go to every house in Lakshadweep. We are in a state where Israel is ready to help us on the desalination programme Just to make you aware of the situation Imagine, all this is done. Infrastructure, water, airports are developed. Would you want to do this? Because Lakshadweep is only 36 islands, total area of 32 square kilometers. Only 10 islands are inhabited. Maldives is 10 times bigger than Lakshadweep. So, its handling capacity is many times bigger than ours. On top of that, Lakshadweep is in an ecologically sensitive zone.
How much ecology do you want to destroy? We have already seen in the hills how we have destroyed the hills due to tourism. So, we have to moderate the volumes. It is not like anyone can come anytime On top of that, comes the cultural factor. Alcohol is banned in Lakshadweep. Recently, there was news that even beef should be banned in Lakshadweep. So, you are thinking about big international parties. That won't happen in Lakshadweep. Big foreigners won't come. It is very isolated and beautiful. There is no doubt about it. But look at Maldives. It is an Islamic nation.
But where there are restrictions on alcohol, in facilities, tourist facilities, resorts, there is no restriction. Drink as much as you want. This is what many countries have understood. When it comes to tourism, you have to keep culture aside. So, this issue of Nationalist sentiment has been going on for the last two days. It is only social media and Nationalist sentiments. This issue could have been solved easily through diplomatic channels. Action could have been taken. Relations could be maintained people to people contact is getting worse. Because if we are tweeting here, if we are abusing here, they are also abusing there. China is getting the benefit in all this. It is taking advantage in the midst of this war.
And tell me one thing, don't social media warriors have any faith in our Jai Shankar Ji? Do you think our foreign policy is so weak that we need to boycott ? Think about it. How are we discrediting our own government by running hashtag campaigns? People to people contact is important. If you do this, you are making long term damage to country and benefitting the campaign of Muizzu Reduce this social media war Let our ministers and political leaders handle this situation Why do social media people stay so angry? Is it necessary to boycott something? So, boycott Deshbhakt, write that in the comments Leave our country's relations alone ... write boycott Deshbhakt instead in the comments if you want