India is sending the Union Minister of Earth Sciences Kiren Rijiju to represent it at the oath-taking ceremony of the Maldivian President-elect Dr. Mohamed Muizzu. The ceremony is to take place on Friday.
The choice of Rijiju is significant in as much as he is a member of parliament from Arunachal Pradesh, a State in North East India which China claims as “Southern Tibet”.
As a result of the claim, China issues “Stapled Visas” to Indians from Arunachal Pradesh. China also protests whenever India holds military exercises in Arunachal Pradesh.
By sending Rijiju, India is posing a challenge to China as well as the new Maldivian government which is seen to be inclined towards China.
In his election campaign, Muizzu had maintained that he would be even-handed between India and China. But he made it clear that he would ask India to remove its military helicopter and its crew from the island, a demand that President Yameen had made but unsuccessfully. Yameen and Muizzu hold the view that there should be no foreign military presence on Maldivian soil.
However, Muizzu had indicated that he would not follow the extremist “India Out” campaign launched by former President Abdulla Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives with government encouragement. Muizzu belongs to the same party and had been Housing Minister in Yameen’s government.
Under Yameen, the Maldives had swung to China hugely to the bitter displeasure of India. However, in 2018. the pro-India Ibrahim Solih came to power and restored the earlier good relations with India.
But Solih could not last beyond one term and the pro-China Muizzu was voted to power in October this year. He is said to be under the influence of Yameen, although Yameen is in jail for high corruption.
China will be represented at the inauguration by Madame Shen Yiqin, former Communist Party chief of the southern Chinese province of Guizhou who was later appointed as one of the country’s five State Councillors, becoming the most senior woman official in the leadership.
However, according to Chinese sources, Madame Shen is not a very important figure although she is the top rungs. She probably is of the same importance in the Chinese establishment as Rijiju is in the Indian government.
In its official announcement, the Indian government said that the Maldives holds a significant position in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “SAGAR” (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the “Neighbourhood First Policy,” thus making it India’s principal maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
According to the MEA, the “high-level” of Ministerial representation from India at the inaugural ceremony, underscores India’s commitment to further deepen substantive cooperation and robust people-to-people ties between the two countries.
India said that it had received an invitation for Prime Minister Modi to attend the oath-taking ceremony of Maldives President. But it decided to send Minister Rijiju instead, describing it as a high-level representation.
Modi had congratulated Muizzu on his victory. “Congratulations and greetings to @MMuizzu on being elected as President of the Maldives. India remains committed to strengthening the time-tested India-Maldives bilateral relationship and enhancing our overall cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region,” PM Modi had posted on X (formerly Twitter).