Indian PM’s Lakshadweep trip tweets sparked a Maldivian row 

Maldives deputy ministers suspended after making derogatory remarks about India and Narendra Modi

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Indian PM's Lakshadweep trip
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Bangaram, Lakshadweep on Jan.4.

MALDIVES, INDIA’S NEIGHBOR with a tourism-dependent economy, faced a social media backlash at the start of the New Year after Maldivian government officials made disparaging comments about India in social media, following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent Lakshadweep trip. In response, several celebrities and social media users launched the #BoycottMaldives, #ChaloLakshadweep  campaigns, which are trending among Indians.

Meanwhile, the Maldivian government suspended three deputy ministers in the Ministry of Youth Affairs—Maryam Shiuna, Malsha Shareef, and Mahzoom Majid—for making the remarks about India and Modi.

“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!” Modi posted on X, accompanying the post with pictures.

Lakshadweep, India’s Union Territory, is southern Indian island chain in the Laccadive Sea, off the coast of Kerala.

The controversy sparked as a social media user named Mr Sinha shared Modi’s tweet and wrote: “What a great move! It’s a big setback to the new Chinese puppet gvt of Maldives.”

Derogatory remark

Subsequently, Maldivian MP Zahid Rameez shared Mr Sinha’ tweet and remarked, “The move is great. However, the idea of competing with us is delusional. How can they provide the service we offer? How can they be so clean? The permanent smell in the rooms will be the biggest downfall.”

Deputy minister at the Maldives ministry of youth empowerment, information, and art, Maryam Shiuna, made derogatory remarks about Modi, referring to the PM as a “clown” and a “puppet.”

She subsequently removed her derogatory social media posts.

Majid highlighted the “challenges” India might encounter while competing with Maldives in beach tourism. She had also tagged PM Modi and addressed the issue of open defecation, though these posts have now been deleted.

Modi’s widely shared social media photos led others to join the campaign.

Promoting Indian islands 

In reaction to posts by Maldivians, Indian social media users pledged to abstain from traveling to the Maldives, opting to “boycott” the destination and choosing to visit the Union Territory instead.

“Bharat is known for converting all Aapda into Avsar, and this dig at our country and our Prime Minister by Maldives ministers is a great Avsar for Bharat to create just the necessary infrastructure to make them attractive to tourists and boost our economy,” former cricketer Virendra Sehwag wrote on X. “Please do name your favourite unexplored beautiful places.”

Actor Amitabh Bachchan responded to Sehwag’s post.

“Viru paji…this is so relevant and in the right spirit of our land .. our own are the very best .. I have been to Lakshadweep and Andamans and they are such astonishingly beautiful locations .. stunning waters beaches and the underwater experience is simply unbelievable. We are Bharat. We are Atmanirbhar,” Bachchan said. “Our self-reliance should not be questioned. Jai hind.”

Other actors, including Akshay Kumar, Varun Dhawan, Salman Khan, Shraddha Kapoor along with veteran cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Venkatesh Prasad have also appealed to people to visit domestic locations instead of foreign places.

‘Key ally’

Meanwhile, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu is on a five-day visit to China. Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed denounced the comments against India and hailed India as a “key ally” of the security and prosperity of the archipelago nation.

“What appalling language by Maldives Government official Mariyam Shiuna towards the leader of a key ally, that is instrumental for the Maldives’ security and prosperity,” Nasheed said.

Nasheed further urged President Mohamed Muizzu and his government to distance themselves from the comments and assure India they do not reflect Maldives government policy.

Tourism stats 

Maldives tourism ministry statistics reveal that in 2023, over 209,000 lakh Indians visited the island nation, a decline from 240,000 lakh in 2022 and 211,000 lakh in 2021. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Maldives maintained its openness to international tourists, attracting nearly 63,000 Indian visitors during that period.

In 2018, India ranked fifth in tourist arrivals to the Maldives with 90,474 visitors, according to statistics. By 2019, India secured the second spot, nearly doubling the arrivals to 1,66,030 compared to the previous year. Tourism industry experts anticipate the #BoycottMaldives campaign to impact the country’s tourism sector.

In June, Modi emphasized tourism’s role in promoting societal harmony.  He had proposed that India’s G20 Presidency motto, ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future,’ could serve as a global tourism motto.