Rajat Sharma


AKBIndia has clearly told Maldives that the behaviour of some of its ministers (now suspended), who had ridiculed Prime Minister Narendra Modi is unacceptable and it is not in the interest of bilateral relations. Maldivian High Commissioner Ibrahim Shaheeb met Indian external affairs ministry officials in South Block on Monday to resolve the diplomatic row that arose after three Maldivian ministers made objectionable comments about PM Modi in the social media. Last week, Prime Minister Modi had visited Lakshadweep Islands and had appealed to Indian tourists to visit the pristine and beautiful islands. Since Maldives is several hundred miles away from Lakshadweep, several ministers and MPs of the new ruling party in Maldives made sarcastic comments about Modi in particular and Indians in general, resulting in a storm among Indian users on social media. The Indian government registered a strong protest with Male, after which the Maldivian government distanced itself from those comments and suspended the three ministers. These developments took place at a time when the new Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu is on a five-day official visit to China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. During his visit, Muizzu described China as a “valued ally and integral collaborator”. He also praised China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative and said BRI has “delivered significant infrastructure projects in Maldives”. The Chinese newspaper Global Times, while taking a cue from state media, wrote that “New Delhi should stay more open-minded, as China’s cooperation with South Asian countries is not a zero-sum game. …. China also respects friendly and cooperative relationship between Maldives and India…Beijing has never asked Male to reject New Delhi because of the conflicts between China and India, nor does it view cooperation between Maldives and India as unfriendly or a threat”. Muizzu is already known as an anti-India and pro-China leader, and the first thing that he did after becoming President was to ask India to withdraw its troops from Maldives. Already a war is raging on social media with Indians across the globe promoting the hashtag #BoycottMaldives. Many Indians have started cancelling their bookings for Male, while a prominent online travel agency has stopped taking bookings for Maldives. This is going to cause a direct impact on Maldivian economy, where 25 per cent contribution to its GDP comes from tourism sector. Maldives has a population of nearly 5.5 lakh people, mostly Sunni Muslims, and every year millions of tourists visit this archipelago. According to Maldivian official data, more than two lakhs Indians visited Maldives in 2023. This year the tourism sector is going to take a hit after Maldivian users launched anti-India campaign on social media. Prashant Pitti, co-founder of EaseMyTrip, said, “Amid the row over Maldivers MP’s post on PM Mpodi’s visit to Lakshadweep, we have decided we will not accept any bookings for Maldives. We want Ayodhya and Lakshadweep to turn out as international destinations.” Another online travel agency MakeMyTrip said, it has started a ‘Beaches of India’ campaign after public enthusiasm increased following PM Modi’s Lakshadweep visit. Meanwhile, top film stars and cricketers took to social media to praise the pristine beauty of Indian islands like Andaman, Nicobar, Havelock and Lakshadweep. Ex-cricketer Virender Sehwag tweeted: “Whether it be the beautiful beaches of Udupi, Paradise beach in Pondi, Neil and Havelock in Andaman, and many other beautiful beaches throughout our country, there are so many unexplored places in Bharat which have so much potential with some infrastructure support. Bharat is known for converting all Aapda into Avsar, and this dig at our country and our Prime Minister by Maldives ministers is a great Avsar for Bharat to create just the necessary infrastructure to make them attractive to tourists and boost our economy.” Reposting Sehwag’s tweet, mega star Amitabh Bachchan wrote on X: “Viru paji..this is so relevant and in the right spirit of our land.. our own are the very best..I have been to Lakshadweep and Andamans and they are such astonishingly beautiful locations.. stunning waters, beaches and the underwater experience is simply unbelievable.. Hum Bharat Hain, Hamari Atmanirbharta Pe Aanch Mat Daliye”. Superstar Salman Khan wrote on X: “It is so cool to see our Hon PM Narendrabhai Modi at the beautiful clean n stunning beaches of Lakshadweep, and the best part is that yeh hamare India mein hain.” Another superstar Akshay Kumar wrote on X: “Came across comments from prominent public figures from Maldives passing hateful and racist comments on Indians. Surprised that they are doing this to a country that sends them the maximum number of tourists. We are good to our neighbours but why should we tolerate such unprovoked hate? I’ve visited Maldives many times and always praised it, but dignity first. Let us decide to explore Indian islands and support our own tourism.” Actor John Abraham wrote: “With the amazing Indian hospitality, the idea of “Atithi Devo Bhava” and a vast marine life to explore. Lakshadweep is the place to go.” Ekta Kapoor, Bhumi Pednekar, Varun Dhawan, Kartik Aryan and Tiger Shroff from Mumbai film industry, and Sachin Tendulkar, Suresh Raina and Hardik Pandya from cricket world shared pictures of beautiful Indian islands and denounced the remarks of Maldivian ministers. The Israeli embassy in India wrote on social media that Israel was ready to commence working on desalination program in Lakshadweep. It shared pictures of “the pristine and majestic underwater beauty of Lakshadweep Islands”. Lakshadweep, which is only 450 miles away from Maldives, can be developed as a major tourist destination, but over the decades since Independence, we have only heard about plans to develop it, but nothing concrete happened on the ground. It goes to the credit of Narendra Modi that he visited Lakshadweep, posted pictures of its islands on social media, and the world sat up and took notice. Modi did not say that Lakshadweep is going to compete against Maldives in tourism, but his arrow hit the target. People the world over started searching Google to find out about Lakshadweep. For the first time in last 20 years, a huge number of searches on Google took place for Lakshadweep. The row that erupted after the intemperate remarks against Indians and Modi from three Maldivian ministers, added more curiosity to those searches. The words used by those ministers for Modi are shameful, to say the least. The feelings of millions of Indians have been hurt and thousands of them have already reacted immediately. Pictures of Lakshadweep islands posted by Modi dominated social media for several days. A huge campaign started on social media and Indians vowed not to visit Maldives because their ministers used abusive words against Indians. Maldives may now have to face the full brunt. Tourism is the main source of earnings for Maldives. Its government earns 90 per cent of its revenue from tourism sector. Sixty per cent of Maldives’ foreign exchange earnings comes from tourism. Indians constituted 11 per cent of all foreign tourists who visited Maldives last year. If Indians start boycotting Maldives, it can cause huge losses to its tourism sector. Top celebrities from our film industry and cricket world have raised their voices against Maldives and they have appealed to Indian tourists to opt for Lakshadweep. The Maldivian government is worried. It suspended three of its ministers, but by then, it was too late. It has become a question of self-pride for all Indians. Lakshadweep has become the symbol of love for India. It will be difficult for Maldives to douse the flames of anger that have been lighted in the hearts of millions of Indians. It is surely kindle the fire of self-pride among all Indians.

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