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regular-article-logo Thursday, 18 April 2024

Maldives suspends three deputy ministers over derogatory remarks against PM Narendra Modi

The remarks by the Maldivian dignitaries had led to an Indian backlash, with celebrities including Sachin Tendulkar and Akshay Kumar wading into the controversy

Anita Joshua New Delhi Published 08.01.24, 05:55 AM
Narendra Modi.

Narendra Modi. File Photo.

The Maldives on Sunday suspended three deputy ministers for their derogatory remarks against Narendra Modi after the Indian Prime Minister’s posts on Lakshadweep triggered a social media row over competitive island tourism.

The remarks by the Maldivian dignitaries had led to an Indian backlash, with celebrities including Sachin Tendulkar and Akshay Kumar wading into the controversy.

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Amid criticism in the Maldives about the adverse impact such remarks can have on the bilateral relationship and tourism — the mainstay of the Maldivian economy — the Mohamed Muizzu government stepped in to contain the damage on Sunday afternoon.

It suspended three deputy ministers in the youth ministry — Mariyam Shiuna, Malsha Shareef and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid.

The three ministers have been identified by the Maldivian media: Sun Online and Atoll Times.

Several media outlets quoted Ibrahim Khaleel, minister at the President’s Office
for Strategic Communications, as saying: “The official stand of the Government
of Maldives with regards to the offensive posts towards India circulating on social media is contained in the official statement issued by the ministry of foreign affairs. All government officials responsible for the comments have been suspended from their posts effective immediately.”

The controversy was triggered by Modi’s social media post on Thursday on his visit to Lakshadweep, which included a walk on the beaches and snorkelling. Some of his support base projected this as his challenge to Maldivian tourism, provoking a response from the atoll nation.

The deputy ministers waded in, with Shiuna calling Modi a “clown” and a “puppet of Israel” in a post that she later deleted.

As the social media war raged on, several Indians began posting images of their cancellations of travel and stay arrangements in the Maldives.

Sunday witnessed several celebrities and social media influencers weighing in with the hashtag “ExploreIndianIslands”. Besides Tendulkar and Akshay – who had heralded in the New Year with his family in the Maldives – the list included Shraddha Kapoor, Randeep Hooda, John Abraham, Kartik Aaryan, Jacqueline Fernandez and Bhumi Pednekar.

Before Khaleel’s comments, the Maldivian foreign ministry too had distanced the government from the derogatory remarks and warned of action.

“These opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the Government of Maldives. The government believes that the freedom of expression should be exercised in a democratic and responsible manner, and in ways that do not spread hatred, negativity, and hinder close relationships between the Maldives and its international partners,” it said.

“Moreover, the relevant authorities of the government will not hesitate to take action against those who make such derogatory remarks.”

This is not the first time the Maldivian government has had to step in to rein in an anti-India campaign. But this is a first for the Muizzu government that had stormed to power on the back of an “India Out” campaign against the previous Solih dispensation and its India First policy.

All through the “India Out” campaign that predated last year’s presidential elections, the Solih government had issued several statements condemning the Opposition for using the slogan and campaigning against the Maldives’ immediate neighbour.

Many in the Solih dispensation, including the former President himself, spoke out against the derogatory remarks against Modi.

“I condemn the use of hateful language against #India by Maldivian government officials on social media. India has always been a good friend to Maldives and we must not allow such callous remarks to negatively impact the age old friendship between our two countries,” Solih said in a post.

His former foreign minister, Abdulla Shahid, too weighed in: “Derogatory remarks made by 2 Deputy Ministers of the current #Maldives Government, and a member of a political party in the ruling coalition, towards Prime Minister @narendramodi and the people of India on social media is reprehensible and odious.

“India is a time tested friend and an unwavering ally. They have historically been the first to respond in our time of need. Our close relationship has been bound by mutual respect, history, culture and strong people-to-people relations.”

Bilateral relations had already hit a trough since the regime change in Male last November, with the new government asking India to withdraw its troops from the country, cancelling a hydrograph agreement, and President Muizzu opting to break with tradition and travel to Turkey first instead of India.

Muizzu is scheduled to leave for China on Monday.

There was no official word from the Indian government on the controversy. The external affairs ministry did not respond to queries on the remarks or on whether it had raised the issue with Male.

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