By Mohamed Junayd
MALE, Maldives (Reuters) – The Maldives government has suspended three deputy ministers for disparaging India’s prime minister, an official said on Sunday, during a dip in ties with its powerful neighbour.
Malsha Shareef, Mariyam Shiuna and Abdulla Mahzoom Majid all worked for the archipelago’s Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Information and Arts and were disciplined for their comments on social media, the senior government official told Reuters.
The three had variously labelled Indian premier Narendra Modi a “clown”, “terrorist” and “puppet of Israel” on social media platform X, in response to a video of him visiting the Indian islands of Lakshadweep to promote local tourism.
Some viewed his visit as trying to draw tourists away from the globally popular Maldives, whose 1,192 islands in the Indian Ocean are dotted with luxury resorts.
The Indian High Commission in the Maldives had “strongly raised and expressed concerns” over the comments, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The controversy comes ahead of a visit by President Mohamed Muizzu to China on Jan. 8-12. Muizzu won election last year with a pledge to end the Maldives’ “India first” policy in a region where New Delhi and Beijing compete for influence.
Muizzu also pledged to remove a small contingent of 75 Indian military personnel from the nation of just over half a million people.
Some prominent Indians, including actor Akshay Kumar and cricketer Hardik Pandya, expressed dismay at the comments by the now suspended Maldivian officials.
Neither of the three were immediately available for comment.
In a campaign to promote local tourism, other Indians, from former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar to actor Salman Khan, have urged people to visit their own islands rather than go abroad.
#ExploreIndianIslands is the second largest trending hashtag in India on X, and some Indians are sharing screenshots of cancelled bookings of Maldivian holidays.
Maldives’ Foreign Ministry said the government was aware of “derogatory remarks” against foreign leaders and would not tolerate them.
“India has always been a good friend to Maldives and we must not allow such callous remarks to negatively impact the age-old friendship between our two countries,” added former Maldives President Ibrahim Solih on X.
(Writing by Uditha Jayasinghe; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Ros Russell)