Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Maldives and Sri Lanka on June 8th and June 9th respectively, showing his commitment to building stronger relationships with the other South Asian countries. These visits are representative of his “Neighbourhood First” policy. Modi stated, “I am confident that my visit to the Maldives and Sri Lanka will further strengthen our close and cordial ties with our maritime neighbours, in line with our 'Neighbourhood-First Policy' and the vision of security and growth for all in the region.”
Prime Minister Modi visited the Maldives on Saturday, June 8th, his first foreign trip since his second term inauguration. Modi met with Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who began his term in November of 2018. The bilateral relationship between India and the Maldives was tense under former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, especially due to his alignment towards China. However, current President Solih has been a supporter of increased India-Maldives relations since his campaign trail, so this visit has significant implications for the two countries. India agreed to provide the Maldives with $1.4 billion in assistance this past December, one month after President Solih’s term began. Some topics of discussion included defense and connectivity projects.
One of Modi’s main priorities regarding the India-Maldives relationship is to increase “inter-island connectivity.” This includes providing easier transportation methods between the two countries, especially for students and young professionals. There were also trade agreements covered, especially regarding the security sector. The Diplomat reported, “A large number of memorandums and agreements were signed with a focus on expanding maritime security cooperation covering hydrography, exchange of white shipping information and a coastal radar system linking the Maldives to India’s larger surveillance network.” Modi also met with the Majlis, the Maldivian Parliament, which was an important step to show his commitment to the country.
Prime Minister Modi visited Sri Lanka on Sunday, June 9th, in the wake of numerous terror attacks that left the country reeling. He met with President Maithripala Sirisena to discuss the rise in terrorism within the country, and how to curb the threat from growing in prominence. Modi tweeted after their meeting, “…President Sirisena and I agreed that terrorism is a joint threat that needs collective and focused action. Reiterated India’s commitment to partner with Sri Lanka for a shared, secure and prosperous future.” The Indian Prime Minister was the first foreign leader to visit the nation after the April attacks, and represented India’s support for Sri Lanka after the calamity. India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar stated that Modi and Sirisena discussed topics of bilateral interest specifically, the latter even gave Modi a replica of the Samadhi Buddha Statue as a present during his visit. The Indian Prime Minister also met with the Leader of Opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa, and they discussed issues of security and economic development between India and Sri Lanka.
There were over 250 people that were killed on April 21st, the Easter bombings that shined an international spotlight on the issue of terrorism in Sri Lanka and South Asia. There were nine suicide bombers that administered the blasts throughout the country, including at St. Anthony’s Church and St. Sebastian’s Church, amongst other sites. This incident is considered the most devastating attack since 2009, the year the Sri Lankan civil war ended. While the Islamic State has claimed responsibility of these bombings, the Sri Lankan government has attributed the blame to National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ), an Islamist extremist group. Prime Minister Modi visited St. Anthony’s Church during his time in Sri Lanka, the church that was one of the sites of the Easter attacks. Modi stated during his tribute, “I am confident Sri Lanka will rise again. Cowardly acts of terror cannot defeat the spirit of Sri Lanka. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to the Maldives and Sri Lanka are representative of his “Neighbourhood First” policy, and his determination to build stronger strategic partnerships with surrounding countries. Both the Maldives and Sri Lanka are important military and trade allies in South Asia, as India works to balance Pakistan regionally and China continentally.