The set of images where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seen looking into the vast Arabian sea from island beaches of Lakshadweep has not only led to a social media war but also a diplomatic divide between India and Maldives. A huge war of words has erupted in social media, with ‘#BoycottMaldives’ trending on social media platform X on Monday, January 8.
EaseMyTrip, a popular website used to make travel bookings, has suspended all its flight bookings to Maldives. The Aviation and Tourism Committee of the Indian Chamber of Commerce also urged the travel and tourism industry to “stop promoting Maldives in view of the anti-India feelings expressed by ministers of Maldives”. There were also reports that Indian tourists had cancelled bookings made in Maldives, which is a highly preferred destination for them.
So, how did a photoshoot with no reference to Maldives in it create such a furore?
On January 3, the Prime Minister inaugurated multiple development projects, while on a visit to the Union Territory, including a Kochi-Lakshadweep Islands Submarine Optical Fibre Connection. On January 4, PM Modi posted a bunch of photos taken from Lakshadweep, including those taken during his snorkelling. He posted them saying, “For those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them, Lakshadweep has to be on your list.”
The post was widely shared, following which Maldivian politicians, including three ministers, made controversial remarks about India and the PM.
What did the Maldivian ministers say
Three Deputy Ministers in the Ministry of Youth Affairs — Maryam Shiuna, Malsha Shareef and Mahzoom Majid — were the first ones to react to the issue. In now deleted tweets, they said that there was open defecation in several places in India and called PM Modi “puppet of Israel”.
To the post about PM Modi snorkelling, in her now-deleted post, Deputy Minister of Youth Empowerment Mariyam Shiuna said, “What a clown. The puppet of Israel Mr Narendra diver with life jacket,” she had said. Ministers Hassan Zihan and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid also made similar disparaging comments.
The Indian High Commission in Maldives “strongly raised” the issue of the remarks made by the Ministers. The Maldivian government, on Sunday, January 7, suspended the three ministers for their remarks against PM Modi.
The Maldivian Foreign Ministry also said that “it believes in freedom of expression but that has to be exercised in a responsible manner”. “These opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the Government of Maldives. Moreover, the relevant authorities of the Government will not hesitate to take action against those who make such derogatory remarks,” it said in a statement.
Bollywood celebrities also joined the chorus urging their fans to explore Indian islands instead of Maldives. Bollywood stars Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shraddha Kapoor and John Abraham took to their social media accounts to promote Indian islands. Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting and Youth Affairs and Sports Anurag Thakur said “in the case of tourism, we are already Atmanirbhar”.
Salman wrote, “It is so cool to see our Hon PM Narendrabhai Modi at the beautiful clean n stunning beaches of Lakshadweep, and the best part is that yeh hamare India mein hain.”
Akshay Kumar shared screenshots of the racist tweets and wrote, “Came across comments from prominent public figures from Maldives passing hateful and racist comments on Indians. Surprised that they are doing this to a country that sends them the maximum number of tourists. We are good to our neighbours but why should we tolerate such unprovoked hate? I've visited the Maldives many times and always praised it, but dignity first. Let us decide to #ExploreIndianIslands and support our own tourism.”
Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar said, “250+ days since we rang in my 50th birthday in Sindhudurg! The coastal town offered everything we wanted, and more. Gorgeous locations combined with wonderful hospitality left us with a treasure trove of memories. India is blessed with beautiful coastlines and pristine islands. With our “Atithi Devo Bhava” philosophy, we have so much to explore, so many memories waiting to be created.”
Actors Randeep Hooda, Shraddha Kapoor and John Abraham also made similar posts.