'Is India Being A Bully?' S Jaishankar's Reply Takes Swipe At Maldives

Jaishankar’s response was an apparent reference to the Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s statement back in January when he had said that though his nation was small 'it does not give you the licence to bully us'.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar | Photo: PTI

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar responded sharply to a question whether "India was being a bully in the region" (sub-continent and the Indian Ocean region). Speaking at a book launch event in the national capital, he said 'big bullies' don't provide USD 4.5 billion in aid when neighbours are in distress.

“The big change today in this part of the world is what has happened between India and its neighbours. When you say India is perceived as a big bully, you know, big bullies don't provide four and a half billion dollars when the neighbours are in trouble,” said Mr Jaishankar at the event on Sunday.

“Big bullies don't supply vaccines to other countries when COVID is on or make exceptions to their own rules to respond to food demands or fuel demands or fertiliser demands because some war in some other part of the world has complicated their lives." 

Jaishankar’s response was an apparent reference to the Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s statement back in January when he indirectly hit out at India. Without naming any country, Mr Muizzu said: “We may be small, but that doesn’t give you the licence to bully us.”

The EAM highlighted that these steps illustrate India's commitment to assisting its neighbours during difficult times, and also elaborated on the progress made in enhancing connectivity between India and its neighbouring countries.

“Today at the connectivity level, just the volume of people moving up and down, the volume of the trade which is there, the Investments which are there, it’s actually a very, very good story to tell. Not just with Nepal and Bangladesh, with Sri Lanka as well, I would say even with Maldives,” Jaishankar said.

Relations between New Delhi and Male have been strained since Mohamed Muizzu, seen as a pro-China leader assumed the presidency of the Maldives last year, vowing to end the nation's "India First" policy.

Muizzu has called for the withdrawal of troops in the region by March 15. The remaining Indians manning the two aviation platforms will be withdrawn by May 10 according to the agreement between the two countries.

Muizzu also chose Turkey as his first foreign destination before visiting China and Dubai for COP28. This was a departure from the tradition of Maldivian Presidents choosing India as their first overseas stop after entering office.

A low-key diplomatic dispute erupted last year when some leaders from the ruling party in Maldives made derogatory statements about India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.