The Maldivian government on Sunday reportedly suspended three deputy ministers for derogatory social media posts against Prime Minister Narendra Modi following a backlash with New Delhi strongly raising the matter with Male and the island nation’s top opposition leaders slamming the ruling establishment over the row.
The three deputy ministers criticised Modi for his post on ‘X’ following his visit to Lakshadweep, inferring that it was an attempt to project the Union Territory as an alternative tourist destination to the Maldives.
Several Maldivian media outlets, quoting officials, reported that deputy ministers in the youth ministry, Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid, have been suspended over their posts. The row erupted on a day President Dr Mohamed Muizzu embarked on a week-long visit to China.
In New Delhi, official sources said the Indian High Commission in Male strongly raised the matter with the Maldivian foreign ministry.
“Our high commission in the Maldives had strongly raised and expressed concerns about the comments made in regard to the prime minister by certain ministers in the Maldives government with the foreign office today,” said a source.
The disparaging remarks by the ministers have drawn flak in India, with many celebrities urging people on X to explore domestic tourist destinations instead of going to the Maldives.
Several cine stars like Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar and cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar were among the celebrities who appealed to people to visit “Indian islands” and coastal destinations.
In social media posts, Kumar, cricketer Hardik Pandya, former players Venkatesh Prasad and Virendra Sehwag and others also condemned the “hateful” and “racist” comments on X by the three ministers.
There were also posts on social media claiming that some Indians are cancelling their scheduled trip to the Maldives in view of the row.
The Maldivian foreign ministry said the government is aware of “derogatory remarks” on social media platforms against foreign leaders and that the personal views do not represent its position.
“Authorities in Maldives on Sunday suspended three deputy ministers who have come under fire for their posts on ‘X’ in which they are seen verbally abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India,” the Atoll Times reported.
Sources said the Indian mission in Male took objection to the social media posts against the prime minister.
“The government of Maldives is aware of derogatory remarks on social media platforms against foreign leaders and high-ranking individuals. These opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the government of Maldives,” the Maldivian foreign ministry said in a statement.
It said the government believes that the freedom of expression should be exercised in a democratic and responsible manner, and in ways that do not spread hatred, negativity, and hinder close relationships between the Maldives and its international partners.
“Moreover, the relevant authorities of the Government will not hesitate to take action against those who make such derogatory remarks,” it said.
Former Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih condemned the use of “hateful language” against India by Maldivian government officials on social media.
“India has always been a good friend to Maldives and we must not allow such callous remarks to negatively impact the age-old friendship between our two countries,” he said.
Former president Mohamed Nasheed described the remarks of the “leader of a key ally” as “appalling” .
“What appalling language by Maldives Government official @shiuna_m towards the leader of a key ally, that is instrumental for Maldives’ security and prosperity. @MMuizzu gov must distance itself from these comments and give clear assurance to India they do not reflect gov policy,” he posted on X.
Former foreign minister Abdulla Shahid also described the remarks against Modi as “reprehensible and odious”.
“I call on the government to reprimand these officials. Public figures must maintain decorum. They must accept that they are no longer social media activists and that they are now entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the interests of the people and the country,” he said.
“India is a time-tested friend and an unwavering ally. They have historically been the first to respond in our time of need. Our close relationship has been bound by mutual respect, history, culture and strong people-to-people relations,” Shahid said.
Former sports minister Ahmed Mahloof too expressed concern over the row.
I am deeply worried about the escalating situation regarding the comments about our closest neighbour, he said
“Indians boycotting the Maldives would have a huge impact on our economy. It would be hard for us to recover from such a campaign. I call on the government to swiftly take serious action to solve the issue as soon as possible,” he said.
Mahloof said India will always remain “our closest neighbor; that’s a fact. We love India and Indians; they are always welcome in the Maldives.”
“As an ordinary citizen of the Maldives, I apologize for the racist comments by a few Maldivians towards Indians and the Prime Minister,” he added.
The Maldives is one of India’s key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean Region and the overall bilateral ties including in areas of defence and security witnessed an upward trajectory under the previous government in Male.
New President Mohamed Muizzu is seen to be close to China. After taking charge of the top office over a month back, he called for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from the Maldives.
Prime Minister Modi was in Lakshadweep on January 2 and 3 to inaugurate several projects.
The prime minister, who also went snorkelling, posted pictures of his undersea exploration on X and early morning walks on the pristine beaches.
“For those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them, Lakshadweep has to be on your list. During my stay, I also tried snorkelling – what an exhilarating experience it was,” he wrote. (PTI)