The Muizzu Gamble: Maldive’s Mexican Syndrome

India, being a blue-chip power in the subcontinent, has to bear the ungrounded imputations of its neighbours now and then. These charges are often void of substance and driven by individual domestic politics. This time, it is the Maldives, which is believed to be slipping into Mexican syndrome. It is primarily due to its Prime Minister, Muizzu, and his myopic politics. The term Mexican syndrome is used for a phenomenon where a smaller nation feels overshadowed by a neighbouring major power. This stems from an inherent inferiority complex, which converts into victimhood and scorn against the major nation. This term was initially used to define the US-Mexico relationship, which today is applicable worldwide. The recent India-Maldives spat has to be seen through the prism of the Maldives’ Mexican syndrome. In this piece, we’ll debunk all the allegations against India and unveil the real politics behind them.


To address the elephant in the room, the fountainhead of the anti-India narrative in the Maldives is the “India Out campaign.” This campaign was led by Mohamed Muizzu and his political party, the People’s National Congress (PNC). Historically, the PNC had an inclination towards China. It is alleged that former party leader and ex-PM Abdulla Yameen had close links with China. It was under the Yameen government that the Maldives took several inviable loans from China, dipping the nation neck-deep in the Chinese debt trap. Later, Muizzu succeeded Abdulla Yameen after Yameen was jailed for several corruption scandals. Mohamed Muizzu carried on the legacy of Yameen and maintained a pro-China stance in his politics. It is pertinent to note that this inclination towards China has always been at the cost of India. Following suit, Muizzu launched the “India Out Campaign” as a political crutch to gain power.



“India Out Campaign” is based on disinformation regarding 88 Indian army personnel stationed in the Maldives. These 88 personnel have been stationed since 2010 as part of bilateral ties that involve training Maldivian troops in combat and reconnaissance. They also assist the Maldives with humanitarian aid and medical evacuations during natural disasters. To stroke anti-India sentiment, Muizzu concocted a fake narrative of India creating a military presence in the Maldives. In February 2021, two countries signed an agreement under which India was to develop and maintain a harbour and dockyard at Uthuru Thilafalhu, near the Maldives capital, Malé. Furthermore, India gifted two advanced light helicopters (ALH) and a Dornier aircraft for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. These goodwill gestures by India were portrayed as an Indian military build-up to create mass hysteria among the public by Muizzu and his party.


The campaign isn’t just limited to the presence of Indian troops in the Maldives. Perhaps anything even remotely Indian was targeted and castigated. In 2022, on the International Day of Yoga, a yoga event conducted on a football field was attacked by an unruly mob of over 150 protesters. The violent mob attacked the participants, ransacked food stalls, and vandalised anything they could lay their hands on. This event was attended by ambassadors, diplomats, and the general public. This attack was also part of the “India Out campaign. The rationale behind the cowardly attack was that “Yoga was against the tenets of Islam.” Apparently, International Yoga Day was celebrated in 192 countries, including 44 Islamic nations, but nowhere did it see such hatred. This hate campaign was propagated for electoral gains under the veil of defending the sovereignty of the Maldives and fighting alleged Indian influence.

Operation Cactus: India’s Effort to Defend Democracy in the Maldives

Indian army landed in Maldives.
During Operation Cactus, India’s Para Brigade offloads ammunition at Hulhulé airport in the Maldives on November 3, 1988, hours after the start of the militant attack.

The political rhetoric of Mr Muizzu and his party of defending the sovereignty of the Maldives from Indian military buildup holds no water. The answer to this disinformation campaign lies in the history of the Maldives itself. Operation Cactus, launched by Indian armed forces in 1988, states the true nature of the relationship between India and the Maldives. This operation was launched to prevent a coup d’état against then-Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and restore law and order in the country. The 1988 coup was the brainchild of Maldivian businessmen Abdullah Luthufee and Ahmed “Sagaru” Nasir. It was supported by Uma Maheswaran, leader of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), a militant Sri Lankan Tamil organisation. On November 3, 80 heavily armed PLOTE fighters, including Luthufee and Nasir, arrived in Malé.

President Gayoom secured and guarded by Indian army soldiers and NSS guards. 

President Gayoom saved

By noon, they had controlled most of the island and captured the headquarters of the NSS, the Maldives’ sole armed force. President Gayoom had escaped to a safe house. As the coup unfolded, India launched Operation Cactus to protect President Gayoom and restore order in the country. In this operation, the 50th Independent Parachute Brigade under Brigadier Farukh Bulsara and the 6th Parachute Unit under Colonel Subhash C. Joshi were dispatched. Two Ilyushin IL-76s carrying Indian soldiers landed in Hulhulé, the Maldives’ main airport. Upon receiving the information of Indian soldiers landing in Male, the rebels decided to abandon their mission and flee. The paratroopers immediately proceeded to rescue Gayoom, and the president was secured by around 5 a.m. on November 4.

Abdullah Luthfee and Ahmed “Sagaru” Nasir arrested Indian paratroopers being transported to Malé from INS Godavari.

operation cactus successful.

By now, the rebels had hijacked a merchant vessel to make their escape. They were eventually intercepted and caught by Frigates INS Betwa and INS Godavari before entering Lankan waters on November 5. With no way to escape, the rebels finally surrendered. Operation Cactus was successful and claimed the lives of 19 people; 68 Sri Lankan fighters and seven Maldivians were eventually arrested. Subsequently, Indian paratroopers stayed on in Malé for over a fortnight. The coup was thwarted, and normalcy was restored by the timely action of Indian forces. This operation is a reality check for Mr. Muizzu, who portrays India as an occupational power. On the contrary, India has always been a benign force and has helped in maintaining tranquillity in the region and strengthening democracy. From the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 to being a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region, India’s record speaks for itself.


India and the Maldives share a multi-faceted relationship that encompasses economic, cultural, and defence aspects. The Maldives is located 70 nautical miles south of India and plays a key role in India’s Neighbourhood First policy. Despite some diplomatic hiccups like these, the Maldives has historically had a sound relationship with India. The reason is that India’s weight in the Maldives’ economy due to its proximity to the nation is unparalleled. The distance from Beijing to Malé is 5,800 km, from Djibouti 3,500 km, from Karachi 3,400 km, and Colombo 766 km; it is 600 km from Thiruvananthapuram. This makes trade and people-to-people relations far more comprehensive than in any other nation. In terms of tourism, which accounts for 25% of the Maldives GDP, India contributes 11.7% alone. India is the largest source of tourists in the Maldives, accounting for 209,200 tourists in 2023.

The following are the key highlights of India-Maldives ties that elucidate the dynamism of this relationship.

  • In terms of trade, India is the third-largest trading partner of the Maldives.


EKUVERIN Exercise.
  • In terms of defence engagement, India and the Maldives carry out an annual joint military exercise named “Ekuverin” and a joint naval exercise called “Ekatha.” India also provides around 70 per cent of the defence training requirements of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). Moreover, India gifted two ALH helicopters and a Dornier aircraft for naval reconnaissance and surveillance operations.
  • In terms of financial assistance, India gave the Maldives $50 million in 2018 and $100 million in 2022 in budgetary assistance. Furthermore, India gave $1.5 billion to the Maldives for economic assistance in 2018. In July 2019, the RBI and Maldives Monetary Authority signed a bilateral USD currency swap agreement. Currently, India’s grants constitute 1.5% of the Maldives’s budget.


  • In terms of infrastructure, India is engaged in several developmental projects. India granted a line of credit of USD 750,000 for airports at Hanimaadhoo and Gan Island. In 2022, the National College for Policing and Law Enforcement (NCPLE) was inaugurated, which was funded under India’s grant assistance of $33 million. India’s flagship project is the Greater Male Connectivity Project, which is the biggest infrastructure project in the Maldives overall. This project is funded by a grant of $100 million and a Line of Credit (LOC) of $400 million from India.
  • In the healthcare sector, India has set up a state-of-the-art cancer facility that will connect over 150 health centres on various islands. India is the biggest supplier of pharmaceuticals to the Maldives. India is also the biggest attraction for medical tourism in the Maldives.
  • India, being the largest resident naval power in the Indian Ocean, is the first responder to disasters and humanitarian assistance in the region. India frequently assists the Maldives in cases of earthquakes and other calamities. In 2014, India launched Operation Neer to supply drinking water to the Maldives to deal with the drinking water crisis. During COVID-19, India supplied 6.2 metric tonnes of essential medicines to the Maldives under Operation Sanjeevani.

Also Read, Decoded: Iran-Pakistan Cross Border Strikes


It would be very imprudent of Mr Muizzu to compromise the Maldives’ national interests for petty political gains by driving a wedge between India and the Maldives. The Maldives could benefit immensely from India’s growth and prosperity. It’s always ill-advised to strain ties with the fast-growing economy that’s going to be the third-largest economy. Muizzu’s plan of pulling the Maldives completely to China’s court would be detrimental to its progress. Sri Lanka is a classic example of what happens when you cut off your nose to spite your face. One major difference between India and China is the weaponization of finance. India believes in a mutually beneficial partnership through sustainable and economically viable monetary assistance. On the contrary, China weaponized its loans to acquire the strategic assets of a nation through its debt-trap diplomacy. What lies ahead in Indo-Maldives relations has to be seen; hope sense prevails in Male.


Anmol Kaushik

Hi, I'm Anmol Kaushik, I'm currently pursuing Law (4th year) at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (GGSIPU). I'm a defence enthusiast and a keen geopolitical observer.

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