The first DHRUV helicopter gifted by India to the Maldives in 2010

After the Maldives asked India last week to take back one of the two naval helicopters deployed by the Navy on one of its islands and said that it wanted a Dornier aircraft instead, India has called Male’s bluff by reminding it that the letter of exchange (LoE) for the deployment of the same is pending with the Abdulla Yameen government since 2016.

"Formal acceptance of the offer through the LoE by Male is the first step to initiate the process for construction of hanger and deployment of Dornier but they have chosen to sit over it for 2 years," the daily quoted an official as saying.

According to officials, the request for the deployment of an aircraft was an excuse to get rid of the chopper deployed on the island.

The chopper is stationed on a strategically important island which sits at the entrance to the one-and-a-half degree channel, a major international shipping passage. China is reportedly planning to build a port on this island. This has fuelled speculation that the Chinese might have played a role in the Maldives’ decision.

"Is there some shady, strategic deal, possibly disguised as a commercial, dual purpose activity, by Yameen with Chinese? Maybe the Chinese want the area cleared of any trace of Indian footprint in Addu," an official told TOI.

The Maldive’s move comes weeks after President Abdulla Yameen lifted a 45-day state of emergency which was imposed amid political upheaval. The Maldives plunged into a major political crisis soon after the island nation’s Supreme Court ordered the release of nine political prisoners, including exiled former President Nasheed, saying their trials were "politically motivated and flawed".

Yameen refused to comply with the judgement, declared a state of emergency, ordered the arrest of the chief justice.

Under Yameen, China’s influence in the Maldives has grown. China has invested in multiple projects and has signed a free trade agreement with the country. Yameen has ignored repeated snubs from New Delhi and has not shown sensitivity towards India’s security concerns in the face of increasing Chinese influence.