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Maldives in Hot Water

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a beach in Lakshadweep
Twitter account of Narendra Modi @NarendraModi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a beach in Lakshadweep

This is a scene that’s common enough in a Bollywood film. A beautiful sun kissed beach. Crystal clear aquamarine waters. A sexy couple in swim suits. Strolling on the beach. Or Swimming through blue waters amidst shoals of little striped fish while a song plays in the background


The Maldives, a bunch of tiny islands in the Indian Ocean, many of them just resorts, has been a favoured vacation destination for India’s beautiful people. Film stars routinely vacation there. Bollwyood films and ad campaigns do shoots there. But after ministers from Maldives made rude comments about the Indian prime minister on social media those blue waters have turned into hot water for everyone.
This is Sandip Roy in Koikata.
It’s a geopolitical row. The new government in the Maldives wants to forge a closer relationship with China. It wants Indian military stationed on Maldives to leave. The Indian External Affairs minister told the media politics is politics

EAM1: Politics is politics. So I cannot guarantee that in every country every day everybody will support us or agree with us.

Shekhar Gupta, editor in chief of the digital news portal Print.in explained the current president Muhammad Muizzu even campaigned on an India Out platform. Even though India and the Maldives have traditionally been very close, one is a giant with over 1.4 billion and the other is tiny with about 520,000 people.

SG1: And that's where this fear of the big brother India, India as the big brother, the fear of the big brother.

Maldives is also 99% Muslim but Shekhar Gupta says the resort islands have a different vibe entirely.

SG2: So those are those are like republics of their own, in their own right. You can drink there, you can hold parties there, you can dance on the beach, you can pose in your swimwear

And that’s what these celebrities do. And Indians count for the biggest part of the tourist flow into the Maldives. And tourism accounts for 28% of the economy. So they wield a lot of power.
Now recently the Indian Prime Minister went to the Indian islands of Lakshadweep which are a tenth the size of the Maldives. And far less developed. He posted pictures of himself strolling on pristine beaches. Talked about snorkelling. And some in the Maldives read that as his challenge to them - we can have our own Maldives right here in India. That provoked nasty comments from even some deputy ministers. A twitter war erupted.
The president who was visiting China, that itself a direct snub to India, had to make conciliatory noises. The ministers were suspended like errant school children. But the President also made it clear that the Maldives would not be bullied into submission either.

PRESIDENT: We might be small but that does not allow you the right to bully us

So the hashtag war ranges on. And the celebrities who were posting their glam beach shots a while back, tagging the resorts, are tripping over each other scrambling to be seen front and centre of the #BoycottMaldives bandwagon. News channels are doing hysterical coral-by-coral comparisons between Maldives and Lakshadweep. Travel portal EaseMyTrip did its bit by suspending bookings to the Maldive


Looking at all the social media uproar one cannot help but think that the level of celebrity outrage must be somehow directly proportional to the number of lavish holidays that celebrity must have spent in those islands.
The talking points are the same and hash tagged. Let’s #ExploreIndianIslands and let’s #BoycottMaldives. The posts all came with tourist brochure style pictures of pristine waters and golden beaches of those Indian islands. The only problem was that while they wanted to make the point that anything Maldives can do Lakshadweep can do better, many in their haste inadvertently shared pictures from the Maldives itself. When it comes to virgin beaches and crystal-clear water it’s obviously hard for our stars to tell one from the other.
Lakshwadeep is tiny, with little infrastructure or connectivity even though the stars all claim its now on their bucket list. If all of them do land up with their entourage the moments of bliss the Prime Minister enjoy will quickly evaporate.
I am just glad I have never been to the Maldives. That means there is no danger of being caught trying to pass of my Maldives snorkelling pictures as a home-grown Lakshadweep holiday.
This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata for KALW