India-Maldives row: Two ticketing portals suspend flight bookings to island nation

The controversy began after three deputy ministers from Maldives’ Ministry of Youth Affairs criticised PM Modi on social media platforms after his recent visit to Lakshadweep.
PM Narendra Modi at Lakshadweep
PM Narendra Modi at LakshadweepInstagram/NarendraModi
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After controversy broke out over comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi made by several ministers from Maldives, two ticketing portals have suspended their services to the island nation. Popular ticketing portals EaseMyTrip and STIC have announced that they will not be offering services to Maldives any longer. 

“Based on the comments of representatives of the Maldives government we have decided not to accept any further bookings,” Prashant Pitti, co-founder of EasyMyTrip, said in a statement. He further added, “Three lakh people from India travel to the Maldives annually. They will not be able to avail booking facilities to Maldives anymore. PM Modi has shown us that there are better places than the Maldives in India such as Lakshadweep.” He also said that Lakshadweep and Ayodhya must become international tourist destinations. 

The controversy began after three deputy ministers from Maldives’ Ministry of Youth Affairs — Maryam Shiuna, Malsha Shareef and Mahzoom Majid — criticised PM Modi on social media platforms after his recent visit to Lakshadweep. They alleged that India is trying to present Lakshadweep as an alternative tourist destination to Maldives. The ministers had reacted to social media posts from the PM’s handle, made on January 4, regarding his visit to Lakshadweep. While the posts were tagged: “For those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them, Lakshadweep has to be on your list,” it may be noted that no mention was made of Maldives. 

However, the deputy ministers took to their own social media to post comments that have been widely condemned as derogatory. Apart from criticism in India, prominent Opposition leaders in the Maldives also denounced the incident. On January 7, the Maldives government distanced itself from the comments made by its deputy ministers, saying in a statement that they “believe in freedom of expression” but “that has to be exercised in a responsible manner”. They also added that: “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.”

The row has lead to #BoycottMaldives trending on social media platforms. The Aviation and Tourism Committee of the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) also released a statement on January 8, saying asking various tourism trade associations such as the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) and others to: “Stop promoting Maldives in view of the anti-India feelings expressed by the ministers of Maldives. This is in spite of the fact that Indians are one of the biggest sources of foreign exchange and creation of jobs in the Maldives. Please divert all such inquiries to Lakshadweep and to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands which are even better than Maldives in many ways and other destinations which can be promoted in the Indian ocean area are Srilanka, Mauritius, Bali, Phuket etc.”

Further, the statement also urges airlines companies to suspend operations to the Maldives and to consider flights to Lakshadweep instead under the Union government’s UDAAN scheme. Similarly, ICC has also asked hotel associations to “seriously consider” investing in Lakshadweep. 

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