Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the Maldives on Saturday afternoon in the first state visit by India’s head of government since 2011.
Modi was greeted at the Velana International Airport by Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid followed by a ceremonial welcome with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih at the capital’s Republic Square.
The island’s northern waterfront was closed to traffic and decorated with welcome banners and the national flags of both countries. Modi was escorted to the president’s office with a cultural procession after a traditional dance performed by school children, a 21-gun salute, and a military guard of honour.
After cancelling a planned trip in 2015 due to political unrest, Modi briefly visited Malé for the first time to attend Solih’s inauguration ceremony in November. The change of government heralded a reset of relations after the historically close ties were strained under the pro-China former administration.
Since then, India has pledged US$1.4 billion worth of assistance – including a US$800 million line of credit to finance new infrastructure projects – as the new government reaffirmed the longstanding ‘India First’ foreign policy.
The choice of Maldives for his first overseas trip since securing a second term reflects “the importance we both attach to our relationship as maritime neighbours and long-standing friends,” Modi said in a pre-departure statement.
“We regard the Maldives as a valued partner with whom we share deep bonds of history and culture. Our bilateral relations with the Maldives have been greatly strengthened in the recent past.”
Bilateral talks at the president’s office were ongoing at the time of publication.
After the exchange of several agreements, the two leaders will remotely inaugurate a coastal surveillance radar system and a composite training centre for the Maldives National Defence Force, two projects with a total value of about US$30 million.
Briefing the press last week, Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale noted that the visit follows “extensive exchanges at the highest level” with ministerial visits over the past eight months.
“Positive developments” include visa liberalisation, a currency swap deal, and US$50 million provided as budget support with a commitment to purchase US$150 million worth of treasury bills issued by the Maldives central bank.
Three projects to be financed under the US$800 million line of credit include water and sewerage projects on 36 islands, an urban development project for the southernmost Addu atoll, and a small business financing project, Gokhale said, adding that other projects were in the pipeline.
A Kochi-Maldives cargo ferry service proposed in 2011 is expected to be finalised during the visit.
Work has meanwhile commenced on “high impact community development projects” with a grant of US$6.5 million pledged during former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit in March. The 14 projects were announced by the foreign ministry over the past weeks.
India also gifted 200,000 LED lights earlier this year and the process of granting 1,000 IT scholarships over the next five years is underway, Gokhale noted.
A request by President Solih to help develop cricket in the Maldives is “under positive consideration,” he said. Along with plans to build a cricket stadium, the Indian cricket authority has been asked to supply kits and provide training and coaching programmes.
Modi is due to address the Maldives parliament at a special sitting on Saturday evening.
President Solih will host a banquet in his honour at the Kurumba resort near Malé and Modi will depart for Sri Lanka on Sunday morning.
Reached the Republic of Maldives.
This visit indicates the importance India attaches to strong ties with the Republic of Maldives and the desire to boost cooperation in various spheres. pic.twitter.com/EwpwMzThvH
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 8, 2019
— Presidency Maldives (@presidencymv) June 8, 2019