Vice president heads to a new Maldives

November 7th, 2008 - 6:11 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 7 (IANS) Vice President Hamid Ansari goes to Maldives Monday on a two-day visit that will mark India’s first top-level contact with the new democratic government in the Indian Ocean country. During the visit - that will also underline continuity in India’s special ties with the Maldives, a member state of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) - Ansari will attend the swearing-in ceremony of the new president elect Mohamed Nashid Tuesday.

Ansari will also meet Nashid and hold talks on a wide range of issues.

“It will be primarily a familiarisation trip that will help India establish equations with the new democratic leadership in the Maldives,” an official said.

The visit by Ansari, a former diplomat who served as India’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Iran, barely a fortnight after the 47-year-old Nasheed was elected president underlines New Delhi’s desire to build stronger ties with a strategically important country, 800 km away from India’s southern tip.

India enjoyed excellent bilateral relations with the Maldives for the three decades when Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled that country - a period that saw the dramatic transformation of the idyllic island nation into a luxury holiday destination, bringing prosperity on one hand but also checks on political liberties.

In an assertion of its security interests in the Maldives, the then Rajiv Gandhi government sent troops to beat off Sri Lankan mercenaries who tried to oust Gayoom in a failed coup in 1988.

The vice president’s visit will build upon enormous goodwill across the spectrum in Maldives for India. A large number of Maldives diplomats have been trained in India. And Maldivians have not forgotten India was among the first few countries to help when the 2004 tsunami struck the Indian Ocean nation that comprises nearly 1,200 islands.

Indians are the largest expatriate community in the Maldives with a population of 19,430. India provides training to the Maldives’ defence personnel and hardware for its military.

According to strategic experts, the historic change of guard in the Maldives will make it easier for New Delhi to deal with a democratic regime instead of a one-man dictatorship in the neighbourhood.

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