Modi heads to Maldives as island shifts to India


NEW DELHI • India Prime Minister Narendra Modi (picture) made his first-ever visit to the Maldives for the swearing- in of its new president, signalling a shift in the island nation toward India and away from China.

The Saturday visit — the first by an Indian head of state since 2011 — was expected to reset strained ties with the Maldives as Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, a veteran Opposition politician, takes over after successfully ousting former pro-China President Abdulla Yameen.

Mohamed Solih’s new government is expected to end political uncertainty in the South Asian archipelago nation that preceded a tense election this September.

The former president received international condemnation for locking up Opposition figures and judges, including unusually strident comments from India.

The previous administration had also taken numerous loans from China that pushed the country into debt, similar to other countries in the region including Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Mohamed Solih’s party has criticised China’s activities in the country, and is expected to review major projects.

“India is in a position to gain some lost ground in Maldives,” said K Yhome, who specialises in India’s neighbourhood at the New De lhi -based Observer Research Foundation.

“The fact that Modi has agreed to attend the swearing- in sends a message that India supports the new government.”