Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar is going to visit Maldives this Saturday to continue India’s high-level engagements with the island nation.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had gone to the Maldives in November last year even during the time of COVID-19 pandemic.
A meeting took place between the two Foreign Ministers, through video conferencing in August 2020 in which several key projects and initiatives were announced. Also, in April 2020, a telephone conversation took place between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
‘India First’ has been the underlying foreign policy approach of the Maldives government. President Solih, since he assumed office in November 2018, has taken concerted initiatives on this front. This is in congruence with India’s Neighbourhood First’ policy.
According to informed sources, India’s rapid and comprehensive assistance to Maldives since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has further reinforced its credentials of being the first responder. Maldives was the first country to receive COVID-19 vaccines from India when India gifted 100,000 doses in January 2021.
This was preceded by a series of health and humanitarian assistance provided in 2020 including donation of 5.5 tons of essential medicines, airlifting of 6.2 tons of medicines by the IAF from various India cities under Operation Sanjeevani, supply of 580 tons of food aid under Mission SAGAR by INS Kesari and deployment of Rapid Response Medical Team to assist in COVID-19 preventive methods.
India also undertook a series of economic and financial initiatives at the peak of the pandemic to revive Maldivian economy. These included an extension of soft loan of USD 250 million for budgetary support of Maldives and supporting the implementation of the Greater Male Connectivity Project – the largest civilian infrastructure project in Maldives, connecting Male with three neighbouring islands through the construction of a bridge-and-causeway link spanning 6.7 km, with a financial package consisting of a grant of USD 100 million and a new Line of Credit of USD 400 million.
Other initiatives include the creation of an air travel bubble to facilitate the movement of people from both sides for employment, tourism and medical emergencies.
Maldives was the first neighbouring country with which an air bubble was operationalized. This has boosted tourist inflow in Maldives and the island country received the largest number of tourists in 2020 from India. A total of 62,905 Indians visited Maldives.
This trend has continued this year with 30,000 Indians visiting Maldives till mid-February out of 138,000 foreign tourists.