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Anti-India Narratives in Maldives Fostered by Foreign Powers: Ex-cultural Director to Male

In Nation, News
January 10, 2024

Amid an ongoing diplomatic row with the Maldives , Syed Tanveer Nasreen , the former director of the India n Cultural Centre in the island nation, has underscored that the prevailing situation is not isolated but a manifestation of a prolonged anti-India sentiment, fostered by foreign powers.

Nasreen , who served as the director of the India n Cultural Centre at the High Commission of India in Male , Republic of Maldives , from 2019 to 2023, shared insights into the growing influence of China and Pakistan in countering India ‘s soft power.

In an interview with PTI, she lamented the ongoing diplomatic row as ”unfortunate” and cautioned against reactionary sentiments such as the ” Boycott Maldives ” movement, viewing them as potential fuel for the ” India Out” campaign and undue importance of the now-suspended Maldivian ministers’ remarks on social media, targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi .

”What has been going on is very unfortunate, and I condemn the remarks made by the now-deposed three Maldivian ministers. But I would say this is not a sudden or isolated incident. This anti-India build-up has been ongoing for quite some time at the instigation of foreign powers,” Nasreen asserted.

In response to the derogatory social media posts against Prime Minister Narendra Modi , the Maldivian envoy to India was summoned to the external affairs ministry to express strong concerns. However, the Maldivian government clarified that these remarks do not represent its official views.

Reflecting on the political landscape during the COVID period, Nasreen highlighted the aggressive anti-India campaign that gained momentum, with opposition politicians not only seeking the removal of the India n military but also pushing for cultural and social disengagement.

She said although the previous MDP government in Maldives had been India -friendly, the opposition politics that gained momentum during the COVID period ”revolved against India ”.

“It was an aggressive anti-India campaign that was going on, they not just wanted the India n military out but also wanted India out culturally and socially. Earlier in Male , we had very easy access to parks and community centres for holding cultural events, but after Mohamed Muizzu , the present president of Maldives , became the mayor of Male , this easy access was curtailed to a large extent,” she recollected.

During this period, Nasreen observed the emergence of China – Maldives Friendship associations and Pakistan – Maldives Friendship associations as mechanisms to counter India ‘s soft power.

However, she emphasised that ” China lacks cultural connections with the Maldives ”.

Recalling an incident in June last year, when a mob disrupted an event related to the International Day of Yoga at the national football stadium in the Maldivian capital Male , organised by the India n High Commission in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Community Empowerment of Maldives , Nasreen highlighted the irony of the protesters practising yoga at various health centres themselves.

“Those who created ruckus on flimsy grounds had viewed that the yoga event was “anti-Islamic”. But the irony is those involved in the incident used to practice yoga at various health centres,” she said.

Despite the challenging circumstances, Nasreen , presently heading the History department at Burdwan University , asserted that the people of the Maldives remain friendly towards India , harbouring great admiration for India n music, Bollywood , and culture.

She disclosed conversations with individuals who participated in anti-India campaigns, revealing that they were incentivised with dresses, food, and money.

“I spoke to one of those who used to participate in anti-India campaigns and at times also used to perform at collaborative cultural events. He told me that for participating in anti-India campaigns he used to get dresses, food and money, so in the evening he along with his family members often participated in such campaigns for extra money,” she said.

This, she argued, demonstrates the ”influx of foreign funds aimed at escalating anti-India sentiments” in the archipelago.

Addressing China ‘s growing influence and its impact on the anti-India narrative in the Maldives , Nasreen drew parallels with similar trends in neighbouring countries, citing ” Sri Lanka as a recent example”.

She underscored the weakening of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the withdrawal of the strongest pro-Indian voice, Mohammed Nasheed , from politics, as exacerbating the situation.

”When this anti-India narrative was gaining momentum, the strongest pro-Indian voice, Mohammed Nasheed , was not adequately supported,” Nasreen noted.

Regarding the social media campaign with the hashtag ” Boycott Maldives ,” Nasreen advocated the condemnation of the remarks by the Maldivian ministers but cautioned against granting them undue importance.

”The remarks by these suspended ministers should not be given undue importance as it would provide those behind the anti-India narrative a handle to harp on,” she said.

Despite reports of cancelled trips to the Maldives under the hashtag, ” Boycott Maldives ,” Nasreen urged patience, emphasising on the mutual interdependence between India and the Maldives .

Nasreen also stated, ” Maldives is dependent on India in many ways. India also needs the Maldives . So this issue should be given some time to settle down.