- PM Modi first Indian Prime Minister to visit Maldives in 7 years
- Ibrahim Solih, who defeated Abdulla Yameen, took charge as President
- Autocratic Abdulla Yameen had been seen as close to China
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today attended the inauguration ceremony of new Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the Indian Ocean archipelago, where no Indian prime minister has come in the last seven years. Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was the last Indian PM to visit the island nation in November 2011.
PM Modi was the senior-most foreign leader to attend the ceremony in the country that went through immense political turmoil under former President Abdulla Yameen. He met Mr Solih after the ceremony and invited him to visit India.
Outgoing Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, 59, had been expected to romp home in the September 23 elections, with opposition leaders jailed or exiled, and warnings that he would try to fix the vote, but in a surprise turn of events, 54-year-old united opposition candidate Mr Solih was declared the winner, sparking celebrations across the tropical holiday destination.
The US, its allies and India have been concerned by growing Chinese influence in the strategically positioned Indian Ocean archipelago, especially under Mr Yameen's authoritarian rule.
"Recent elections in the Maldives represent the collective aspirations of the people for democracy, rule of law and a prosperous future. We in India strongly desire to see a stable, democratic, prosperous and peaceful Republic of Maldives," PM Modi tweeted hours before getting on his flight.
I will convey to the new Maldivian Government of Mr. Solih the desire of the Indian Government to work closely for realisation of their developmental priorities, especially in areas of infrastructure, health care, connectivity & human resource development. https://t.co/fTmMnNbEyX- Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 16, 2018
The Maldivian President has highlighted the need to maintain close ties with immediate neighbours over other nations, and his team is reviewing Chinese investments, projects and debt worth millions of dollars.
In October, former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, 80, had said India played a positive role in restoring democracy in the Maldives by "exerting pressure" on the former regime led by defeated pro-China strongman Abdulla Yameen.
Mr Nasheed returned to his country following Solih's election. During the swearing-in ceremony, he sat beside PM Modi and the two were seen chatting animatedly. Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunge was also sitting along with them.
Under Mr Nasheed, relations between India and the atoll nation had improved greatly.
A political turmoil in the island nation was triggered by imposition of emergency in February and jailing of several opposition leaders, including Mr Gayoom, a half-brother of Mr Yameen.
PM Modi landing in the Maldives is a sign that years of cold ties with the Maldives because of Mr Yameen's closeness to China is behind now. An ongoing constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka is also said to be linked to India and China's tussle over expansion of their influence in the Indian Ocean region.
(With inputs from agencies)