Maldives government drafts bill to ban ex-President Yameen’s ‘India Out’ campaign

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In a bid to counter alleged politically motivated anti-Indian narratives supported by China in the island nation of Maldives, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is writing a new bill to ban internal political movements that negatively impact foreign relations.

The “India Out” campaign has gained momentum in the Maldives, following the release from prison of former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. He accused India of interfering in the country’s internal politics and the current Maldivian government of “collusion” with India.

Thus, outgoing President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his MDP will propose a new bill to Parliament to block the “India Out” campaign. Solih has been a strong supporter of the “India First” foreign policy and his government sees that the opposition’s harmful anti-India campaign could harm the bilateral relations between the Maldives and India.

The proposed new law will carry a penalty of 20,000 Maldivian Rufiyaa, in addition to a 6-month prison term or a year’s house arrest for insinuating that the Maldives is under military, economic or political control from another foreign nation.

The opposition called the bill an attack on the people’s constitutional rights. A spokesperson for the Progressive Congress Coalition, Heena Waleed said, “This is an outright attack on the constitutional rights of the people. Their right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression cannot be restricted to protect the interests of a foreign power.

The background to the “India Out” controversy

The so-called ‘India Out’ campaign began in 2020 as grassroots protests, which later moved to social media as a ‘hashtag campaign’. Besides the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), one of the leaders of this anti-Indian campaign has been a media outlet by the name of Dhiyares.

By talking to The Indian Express, Shifxan Ahmed, co-founder of Dhiyares alleged, “We are just protesting against the military presence in the country. We are not calling for a violent confrontation against India or the Indians of the Maldives.

According to research analyst Dr. Gulbin Sultana, the ‘India out’ campaign is led by former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. Sultana added that it was no longer a civil society movement but rather a political movement.

Due to anti-Indian sentiments fueled by the divisive campaign, Indian teachers have been the victims of bullying from the protesters. India Out activists had targeted 2 Indian teachers on two different islands under the guise of protests. They were asked to leave the country.

The cases have been confirmed by the Maldives Ministry of Education. “The ministry has also filed a police complaint since the wall of Shaviyani Funadhoo School was vandalized with spray paint, on a sign saying India Out,” a report in The edition declared. It should be mentioned that former President Yameen, who initiated the campaign, had been pro-China during his tenure between 2013 and 2018 as the Maldivian president.

The Maldives are of strategic importance to India and China as the communist regime tries to exert influence in the Indian Ocean. To counter this, India has invested large sums of money in the island nation and has now become one of the biggest investors in the island nation. “At the end of the day, the Maldives needs India’s help. It’s not a very big power in the region and India is an important country,” said research analyst Dr Gulbin. Sultana.

Maldivian political parties lend support to India

One of the main arguments behind the “India out” movement is the alleged presence of Indian military forces in the island nation. Speaking on the issue, Chief of Staff in President Ali Zahir’s office said the presence of foreign military does not automatically imply foreign control over the Maldives. “Even our own military personnel are stationed in various countries overseas,” he added.

Apart from the incumbent Maldivian government led by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, other political parties such as the Adhaalath party have condemned the motivated campaign against India. “The Adhaalath Party condemns the efforts undertaken by a political party to incite hatred in people’s hearts towards neighboring and global partners who contribute to the growth and development of the country,” it said in a statement.

The largest opposition party in the Maldives, the Jumhooree Party, said: “The majority of countries in the world have accepted this practice, internationally, regionally and mutually. It is a common political ploy by opposition parties to involve ‘unarmed’ soldiers in official functions such as the presence of foreign ‘military’ in the country”.

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