Modi to attend Maldives president’s inauguration in boost to ties

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, feeds sweets for the Hindu festival of Diwali to Indian Army personnel in Harsil in northern Uttarakhand state in this Nov. 7, 2018 file photo. — AFP

NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the inauguration of Maldives president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as the neighbors look to reset ties following the exit of a pro-Chinese government.

India, a traditional ally of the Maldives, was sidelined by the administration of President Abdulla Yameen who forged closer ties with Beijing.

Modi will make his maiden visit to the Indian Ocean archipelago for the Nov. 17 swearing-in of Solih who defeated Yameen in a Sept. 23 election after a bitterly contested campaign.

“The prime minister has accepted the invitation with pleasure in keeping up with the neighborhood first policy,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told reporters on Friday.

“India looks forward to closely working with Maldives in further deepening our partnership,” he added.

Modi canceled one Maldives visit in 2015 after former President Mohamed Nasheed was detained under Yameen’s administration.

The small island nation has strategic importance, falling in international sea-lanes as well as being close to India.

Ties between the two countries nosedived in 2012 after pro-India leader Nasheed was ousted in a coup followed by the controversial election victory of Yameen in 2013.

Yameen’s administration accepted major Chinese investments to boost the country’s infrastructure and economy, which is mostly driven by tourism. The Maldives now has major debts to China.

Yameen declared a state of emergency in February further straining the relationship with New Delhi. Some Indian politicians called for a military intervention to remove Yameen.

Yameen’s administration jailed judges and several opposition leaders. But under international pressure, Yameen called the September vote which Solih overwhelmingly won. — AFP