Indian consulate in Addu City; A possible “safe house” for Indian spies?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conferred with the Order of the Distinguished Rule of Izzuddin by Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on June 8, 2019 | Photo: President's Office

Recently the union cabinet of India, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has approved the opening of the first consulate in Addu City, the southernmost city of Maldives.

“Opening of a consulate general in Addu City will help augment India’s diplomatic presence in Maldives and make it commensurate with the existing and aspired level of engagement,” an official statement of India said.

Soon after the Indian announcement, the opposition politicians in the Maldives sparked the debate about the purpose of such a consulate in Addu city, claiming it to be a step forward to expand Indian military influence over the nation. 

Establishing Indian consulate in Addu city is followed by the construction of much criticized police academy, which is sponsored by India. In addition, several million dollars worth of projects that will be carried by Indian companies in Addu City were recently awarded.

A police academy that was started to build during former President Yamin’s regime in Addu City, is now portrayed as an Indian military base by the supporters of President Yamin. The construction of the Police academy is sponsored by Indian government which spreads over several acres of land in Hithadhoo of Addu City. 

At the inaugural stage, the government of Maldives state that it was a move to strengthen bilateral cooperation between the two nations especially in areas of law enforcement and security. The government of Maldives on several occasions has denied the claim of Yamin’s supporters regarding the rumours.

India first policy of Maldives diplomacy remained unchanged except during President Abdulla Yamin’s presidency. As India was among the first country to recognize Maldives independence, bilateral relations with the two nations have been friendly and close in strategic, economic and military cooperation. India remained as Maldives long term partner and closest ally and is the first country to initiated the establishment of a diplomatic mission in Maldives. 

Presence of Indian intelligence in Maldives 

Previously some media has reported that a secret report of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s spy agency, stated that it successfully thwarted other intelligence agency’s effort to counter Indian influence in Maldives. But there is no official confirmation that any Indian intelligence operations were carried out in the Maldives.  Analysts’ comments that it is a fact that India’s effort to minimize Chinese influence over neighbouring countries involves its intelligence agencies. Besides Maldives, RAW is also stepping up its vigil of Chinese vessels around Seychelles and Mauritius. 

From 2013 onwards, India deployed at least 48 crew and support staffs of the Indian Military, when two Indian military helicopters were gifted to Maldives. The island nation later conveyed to New Delhi that it would not like to retain the agreement when it is expired, and refused to extend the visa for those military personals. After several rounds of talks between the two countries, Maldives indicated its willingness to keep the helicopters along with the crew and support staff. The purpose of such a huge number of crew and support staffs from the Indian military always remained in question. 

According to the sources, Indian government never fulfilled conditions of the agreement which clearly states the procedure of handing over the helicopter to Maldivian authorities. Instead, India was paving way to remain its force in Maldives using helicopter operations as a cover. And it is suspected that majority of crew members involves Indian intelligence agents. 

Importance of Consulate general in Addu

According to the statistics approximately 29,000 Indians live and work in the Maldives. Majority of them live in Male’, the capital city of Maldives. And it is estimated that presently only few hundred Indians live and work in Addu city. 

From these figures alone, it is understandable that diplomatic necessity of a consulate general in Addu is not favourable. 

For a minor number of Indian citizens such as in Addu, India has never established a consulate general in any other country. Despite a huge number of Indian citizens in countries like US, UK and UAE , very few consulate offices are yet opened compared to the numbers.

One of the major advantages of a diplomatic mission for any country includes conducting its strategic security works within the host country with diplomatic immunity. This practice is undisclosed but well known and accepted in modern diplomacy since it gives either party similar benefit.

As India has increased its vigilant surveillance in the Indian ocean, establishing its consulate general in Addu city categorically fits more to security reasons, rather than a diplomatic purpose. 

India must have believed that it’s much criticized previous methodology for the presence of Indian troops within helicopter operation is not bearable. And a diplomatic mission will be far better cover for their security analysts and agents with diplomatic immunity. 

Mayor and Parliamentarians all in for the Indian Consulate

Although the government of Maldives has yet to approve the establishment of an Indian consulate in Addu City, Mayor Nizar stated that Addu City Council will provide full support in the matter as it is an important decision made regarding the development of Addu.

While noting that a consulate office would also allow Addu City to enter the international field, Mayor Nizar said that this would be a way for foreign investors to notice Addu City and further enhance the development of the islands of Addu. 

What we want is development. In addition to Addu, establishing such a consulate would open opportunities for the development of Fuvahmulah City and the whole Huvadhoo atoll as well. 

Addu City Mayor Nizar

Mayor Nizar also responded to the people who have been criticizing the establishment of a consulate in Addu city and stated that any person who politicizes the matter is a barrier to the development of Addu.

Hithadhoo North Constituency parliamentarian, Mohamed Aslam has said that establishing and Indian consulate in Addu City would held businesses to flourish in Addu.

Locals sentiments on the Consulate

While the pro-government people of the city and Maldives have been supporting the establishment of the consulate in Addu, many have taken their stand against the Indian Consulate in Addu claiming that it is no more than an Indian strategy to gain more influence over the Indian Ocean.

People from the general public have also questioned the necessity and need for a consulate to be established in order to deliver the projects being carried out in the southern region, especially in Addu City by India, which the pro-government supporters have been pointing out.

In addition to this, many have also pointed out that the relationship between the establishment of an Indian Consulate to the development of Addu City needed to be justified and that that if it was compulsory to establish a consulate in Addu, that there should be business prosperity which can be seen even now. 

Indian Embassy on the established of their Consulate in Addu

Following the news of India’s proposal to establish a Consulate in Addu City, Indian High Commission in Maldives stated that light connectivity may commence soon considering the growing people to people contact and rising trade and economic engagement.

Indian High Commission also stated that if there is an Indian Consulate in Addu that visa works for medical and educational purposes could be handled in Addu and that this would save costs and time for residents of Addu and other Southern atolls. 

They also stated that there are also a large number of beneficiaries of scholarships, both under ITEC and ICCR scholarship schemes, who come from the Southern atolls if the consulate is established and that interviewees will also be able to do their interview and visa formalities in Addu, thus obviating the need to travel to Malé. 

High Commission had also told that if and when the Government of Maldives approves the proposal for setting up an Indian Consulate in Addu, that a suitable location will be identified in Addu that will enable the local communities to access the Consulate without restrictions. 

Maldivian’s and Indian’s eagerly await the Maldivian Government’s decision

While it is unclear on what the Maldivian governments decision on the matter would be, it’s most probable that the Maldivian government steered by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih would not want to disappoint the “Big Brother” to which Maldives is in debt to.

Government Finance Statistics (GFS) released by Ministry of Finance earlier this year revealed that the amount of loans taken between 2012 and 2023 from EXIM Bank of India will surpass the amount of loans taken from EXIM Bank of China in the same period. 

According to the governments finance statistics, a total of MVR 7,225.9 million in loans will be taken from EXIM Bank of China between 2012 and 2023 while MVR 7,238.6 million in loans will be taken from EXIM Bank of India during the same period. 

The statistics also show that India will be giving a total of MVR 7,836 million as bilateral grants within the period of 2012 till 2023 making it the largest donor country to the Maldives. Out of this, a total of MVR 7,754.1 million will be given between 2018 and 2023.

It is also noteworthy that India has passed to establish the Indian Consulate in Addu City while India backed Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid’s candidature for UNGA president for which Minister Shahid has been campaigning tirelessly.

While the government and its officials tied up in such a web of politics, debt and India’s generosity, it remains a major question as to which how the government would go ahead with the offer of Indian government to establish the Indian Consulate in Addu City.