Photos of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the beach provoke calls from Indians to boycott tourism in Maldives

(CNN) — The Maldives faced a boycott by one of its biggest sources of tourism revenue after three of its officials mocked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, prompting Indian citizens and celebrities to avoid fleeing. Beaches in India.

Controversy arose after Modi posted pictures on social platforms

Modi did not mention India’s picturesque neighbor, the Maldives, in his post, but his praise of the lesser-known archipelago’s beautiful scenery could be seen as a charm offensive to attract people on holidays there rather than to the Maldives. Is.

According to Reuters, three Maldivian officials responded to his post, calling Modi a “clown,” a “terrorist” and an “Israeli puppet.”

The Maldivian government immediately distanced itself from his comments and suspended three officials (deputy ministers of the ministries of youth employment, information and the arts), a senior Maldivian official told Reuters on Sunday.

In a statement, the Maldivian government said it was aware of “derogatory” comments made on social media, but stressed that “opinions are personal” and do not represent its views.

He said, “The Government believes that freedom of expression should be exercised in a democratic and responsible manner, and in a way that does not spread hatred, negativity and does not hinder the close relations between the Maldives and its international partners. “

The incident comes at a sensitive time, as Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu is on a five-day visit to China, his first as president since his election victory last October.

Muizu is known for his pro-China stance and has promised to end his predecessor’s “India first” policy in a region where New Delhi and Beijing compete for influence.

During the visit, he is expected to meet Chinese officials and sign “key agreements to enhance trade, professional and socio-economic development”, according to a government statement.

But while Mizuho would be interested in closer ties with Beijing, the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago – home to about half a million people – cannot afford to distance itself from its nearest neighbour.

Maldives depends heavily on tourism and a large portion of that revenue comes from India; According to the Maldives tourism website, last year the tropical beaches of the world’s most populous country were visited by the largest group of tourists ever.

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Tourists disembark from a seaplane at a resort in Baa Atoll in the Maldives on September 24, 2023. (Credit: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

Data released last week showed Indian tourists made more than 209,000 visits to the Maldives in 2023, accounting for 11% of its tourism market. Russia contributed almost the same amount and China was not far behind, providing 187,118 views or 10% of the total.

But the officials’ comments angered some Indian tourists, who posted screenshots on social media to show they had canceled trips to the island chain under the hashtag #BoycottMaldives.

Prominent personalities from Bollywood actors to cricketers also urged fans to head to local destinations, with another hashtag #ChaloLakshadweep, meaning “Let’s go to Lakshadweep”, where Modi had visited, gaining popularity. of.

These included Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, who is known for acting in patriotic themed films. He called the comments by Maldivian officials “disgusting and racist”.

He said, “We are good towards our neighbors but why should we tolerate such unprovoked hatred? I have visited Maldives many times and have always admired them, but dignity comes first. Let us know the #IndianIslands. “Decide to plant and support your own tourism.”

Indian travel site EaseMyTrip on Monday said it has suspended flight bookings to Maldives.

“In solidarity with our country, @EaseMyTrip has suspended all flight bookings to Maldives,” Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder of EaseMyTrip, said in a post on Twitter.

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The Indian High Commission in the Maldives “strongly raised and expressed its concerns” to the Maldivian Foreign Ministry, a source told CNN on Monday.

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, said the Maldivian government’s quick action to suspend the officials and condemn their comments shows how much it values ​​relations with India.

“This dispute that has been brewing in recent times suggests that there will be some challenges ahead, but I would say that at the end of the day the new leadership in the Maldives does not want to risk losing its relationship with India,” he said.

“I would say that this government of Maldives would like to balance its relations with both India and China.”


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