Maldives to criminalise the use of 'India Out' campaign in the island nation to curb insinuation about foreign interference: Details

In a bid to counter the alleged China-sponsored, politically motivated, anti-India narratives in the island nation of Maldives, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is drafting a new bill to outlaw internal political movements that adversely impact foreign relations.

The ‘India Out’ campaign has gained momentum in the Maldives, following the release of former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom from jail. He had accused India of interfering in the country’s internal politics and the incumbent Maldivian government of ‘colluding’ with India.

As such, incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his MDP will propose a new bill in the Parliament to stall the ‘India Out’ campaign. Solih has been a strong proponent of ‘India First’ foreign policy and his government sees that the nefarious anti-India campaign by the Opposition may hurt the bilateral relations between Maldives and India.

The proposed new law will attract a penalty of 20,000 Maldivian Rufiyaa, besides a jail term of 6 months or house arrest of 1 year for insinuating that the Maldives is under the military, economic or political control of another foreign nation.

The Opposition has dubbed the drafted bill as an attack on the constitutional rights of the people. A spokesperson for the Progressive Congress Coalition, Heena Waleed alleged, “It’s a downright attack on the constitutional rights of the people. Their right to freedom of assembly and freedom for expression cannot be curtailed to protect the interests of a foreign power.”

The Background of ‘India Out’ Controversy

The so-called ‘India Out’ campaign began in 2020 as on-ground protests, which later shifted to social media as a ‘hashtag campaign’. Besides the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), one of the frontrunners of this anti-India campaign has been a news outlet by the name of Dhiyares.

While speaking to The Indian Express, Dhiyares co-founder Shifxan Ahmed alleged, “We are just protesting military presence in the country. We are not calling for a violent clash against India or Indians in the Maldives.”

According to one research analyst, Dr Gulbin Sultana, the ‘India out’ campaign is led by former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. Sultana added that it is not a civil society movement anymore but rather a political movement.

Owing to the anti-India sentiments fuelled by the divisive campaign, Indian teachers had been at the receiving end of harassment from protestors. ‘India Out’ campaigners had targeted 2 Indian teachers on two different islands under the garb of protests. They were asked to leave the country.

The cases were confirmed by the Education Ministry of Maldives. “The ministry has also filed a case with the police since the Shaviyani Funadhoo School’s wall has been vandalized with spray paint, in a sign that reads India Out,” a report in The Edition stated. It must be mentioned that former President Yameen, who is behind the campaign, had been pro-China during his tenure between 2013 and 2018 as Maldivian President.

The Maldives is of strategic importance for both India and China, with the Communist regime trying to exert its influence in the Indian Ocean. To counter this, India has invested large sums of money in the island nation and has now become of the largest investors in the island nation. “Ultimately the Maldives does need assistance from India. It is not a very big power in the region and India is an important country,” informed research analyst Dr Gulbin Sultana.

Maldivian Political Parties Extend Support To India

One of the primary arguments behind the ‘India out’ movement is the alleged presence of Indian military forces in the island nation. While speaking on this matter, Chief of Staff at President’s Office Ali Zahir said that the presence of foreign military did not automatically imply foreign control over the Maldives. “Even our own military personnel are stationed in various countries abroad,” he added.

Besides the incumbent Maldivian government led by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, other political parties such as the Adhaalath Party has condemned the motivated campaign against India. “Adhaalath Party condemns the efforts undertaken by a political party to incite hatred in the people’s hearts towards neighbouring and global partners that are assisting in the growth and development of the country,” it said in a statement.

The largest Opposition party of Maldives, Jumhooree Party, stated, “The majority of the countries in the world have accepted this practice, on an international, regional and mutual level. It is a common political stunt by oppositions to imply such “unarmed” military personnel on official duties as the presence of foreign “military” in the country”.