Boycott Maldives: How PM Modi's Lakshadweep Photos Ignited Diplomatic Row Between India, Maldives | Explained

The Maldives government suspended three deputy ministers on Sunday after they used social media to make negative comments about PM Modi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Lakshadweep.

PM Modi's posting of a series of images of himself gazing out into the Arabian Sea, surrounded by the coastal beauty of Lakshadweep, triggered not just a social media war between India and the Maldives, but also a low-key diplomatic divide between the two nations.

The Prime Minister mentioned "the stunning beauty of its islands" in a post on his visit to the Union Territory earlier this week, adding that "for those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them, Lakshadweep has to be on your list".

Neither Modi nor other Indian officials referenced the Maldives or any other tourist-popular island country when promoting Lakshadweep in official statements. So, how did this generate social media discussion, and how does it relate to the Maldives government's recent attitude toward India?

We're going to explain.

How did it start?

Soon after PM Modi posted on social media promoting tourism in the Lakshadweep islands, some prominent Maldivian users responded with racist, xenophobic, and derogatory comments targeting Indians. 

Among them was Mariyam Shiuna, Maldives’ Deputy Minister of Youth Empowerment, Information and Arts, who wrote: “What a clown. The puppet of Israel Mr. Narendra diver with life jacket. #VisitMaldives #SunnySideOfLife”.

How did the Maldives government react?

The Maldives government suspended three deputy ministers on Sunday after they used social media to make negative comments about PM Modi, according to local newspaper Atoll Times. In a previous statement, the government stated that it "will not hesitate to take action against those who make such derogatory remarks".

Mariyam Shiuna, Malsha Sharif, and Mahzoom Maajid are the three suspended ministers.

Several former Maldives ministers have shown their support for India on social media. 

How did the Indians React?

'Boycott Maldives' is trending on X, with many Indians stating on social media that they have cancelled their scheduled vacations to the island nation. 

Many people on social media have reportedly uploaded screenshots of their cancelled flights and hotel reservations.

Many Indian politicians also slammed Maldives politicians' tweets. Famous athletes and Indian actors also joined them. Indian film stars Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, and Shraddha Kapoor, among others, have encouraged fans to "explore Indian islands" and coastal areas. 

India Maldives Relationship

Diplomatic tensions between India and the Maldives have been rising in recent months, especially since President Mohamed Muizzu took office in November of last year. The new president has signalled a shift in foreign policy, indicating greater connections with China and a shift away from the old "India first" strategy.

The Maldives, geographically placed in the Indian Ocean, continues to play an important role in India's regional initiatives such as 'SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the 'Neighbourhood First Policy'.

Muizzu's expected travel to China, scheduled for January 8 to 12, has fuelled the debate even further. 

The president's first state visit since taking office is viewed as a key step towards boosting ties with China. This trend can be seen in the president's choice of overseas venues, which includes trips to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates before meeting with India.