The news in the mainstream media and the social media are ablaze with debates about Lakshadweep and Maldives. Scores of celebrities and influencers have been posting in favour of Lakshadweep and developing India’s own tourist destinations. But how did this all begin? Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the archipelago of Lakshadweep recently and the images of him in the islands became all the rage in social media. It was a strategic push for further enhancing tourism in Lakshadweep which ranks significantly below in travellers’ bucket list, especially Indians.
How is Maldives involved?
This push is a carefully planned move by the Indian Government to subvert Maldives’ unique position as a tourist paradise in the Indian Ocean as the Maldives is inching closer to China ever since its President Mohamed Muizzu was elected in November 2023. India and China have been trying hard to keep Maldives under their sphere of influence for quite many years now with India having an advantage for the most part. In 2013, Maldives moved closer to China with election of Abdulla Yameen Gayoom as the President and it soon became a victim of China’s infamous ‘debt trap diplomacy’.
However, in 2018, Mohamed Ibrahim Solih, the predecessor to current president Mohammed Muizzu, was elected to office and resumed close relations with India with his ‘India-First’ policy. A $1.4 billion dollar aid, free vaccines during Covid were given to Maldives in addition to plans for construction of cancer hospital, airport and a port.
It has been a seesaw of sorts with both China and India getting their turns to be diplomatically closer to Maldives over the past decade. Now, the tables have turned again after 2023 with Muizzu becoming the President. Indian troops stationed in Maldives have been asked to leave after he assumed office and India had reportedly obliged. Apart from asking India to leave, Maldives have been getting closer to China and at the time of writing this, the President of Maldives has already arrived in China after an invitation by Chinese President Xi Jingping’s invitation for a state visit which is scheduled to last from January 8th to 12th.
India’s Lakshadweep Push:
It is in this backdrop; we should look at India’s push for Lakshadweep as tourist destination. After all, most tourists to Maldives have been from India since 2020. The move has stoked a backlash in Maldives as well. Derogatory comments were passed by the Deputy Ministers in Maldvies which led to a sharp reaction on social media from some of the Union Ministers along with several other celebrities that include the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar and Hardik Pandya. The ministers have been reportedly suspended.
Tourist inflows by nation to Maldives over the last decade: pic.twitter.com/yAPfIRLZAn
— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) January 8, 2024
In the social media frenzy that followed, many have put out misinformation that also includes Union Minister Kiren Rijiju. In a bid to position Lakshadweep as an alternative for wannabe travellers, many have been sharing images of Maldives unwittingly by claiming that they are pictures of scenic spots in Lakshadweep.
Virendar Sehwag too shared pictures which included an image of Bora-Bora, an island of French Polynesia.
Whether it be the beautiful beaches of Udupi , Paradise Beach in Pondi, Neil and Havelock in Andaman, and many other beautiful beaches throughout our country, there are so many unexplored places in Bharat which have so much potential with some infrastructure support. Bharat is… pic.twitter.com/w8EheuIEUD
— Virender Sehwag (@virendersehwag) January 7, 2024
Ranveer Singh (now deleted) posted an image of Maldives which many X (Twitter) users pointed out to be from Maldives.
Rishi Bagree, a notorious misinformation peddler, claimed that the Maldivian President has issued an unconditional apology in form of a post in X. However, no such post was made by him which can be confirmed using Social Blade tool and we also could not find any replies to the post.
Maldives Pres tenders an unconditional Apology with an Folded Hand pic.twitter.com/jLsSIUBLlt
— Rishi Bagree (@rishibagree) January 8, 2024
News outlets such as Times of India, The Mint and Business Today claimed that Lakshadweep was the top searched term in Google on 4th and 5th January for two consecutive days. These news reports came on 5th and 6th of January, but it was on the top search only on 7th January. The same can be confirmed using Google Trends tool. Maldives too is keeping pace with the spike in searches for Lakshadweep and in fact it is searched a bit more than Lakshadweep for the most part.
Almost 14-year-old video was unearthed and spread as if it is a recent event by some right-wing profiles such as Times Algebra to run a smear campaign against Maldives.
Shocking allegations against Maldives Tourism by International Media. pic.twitter.com/dpc5boh0vP
— Times Algebra (@TimesAlgebraIND) January 7, 2024
The Mint reported that as much as 8000 booking were cancelled due to the ongoing issue but later removed that from their article as there is no verifiable proof for their claim.
How it unfolded?
After Modi’s visit, the images made it to the social media which was used by several of his fans and supporters who exclaimed ‘masterstroke’ as per their routine. Some even abused the island nation and equally derogatory and vulgar comments were made by some social media users in Maldives too which was echoed by some ministers in Maldives. The supporters of the BJP and Narendra Modi got into the act and launched a near synchronised social media campaign ‘against Maldives and for Lakshadweep’ which predictably included many of the celebrities from Bollywood, Cricket, Media and other sports. With this sudden thrust for tourism for Lakshadweep, a concern remains if the tiny archipelago can take it. After all, Lakshadweep has a total area which is roughly just one-tenth of Maldives and many of its ecology and environment is already in precarious condition. We’ll have to wait and see how we as a nation preserve the pristine condition of the tiny islands of Lakshadweep as we chart out to increase tourism.