Last week, the Union Cabinet of India approved the opening of a new consulate in the Maldivian city of Addu, in reflection of the importance India attaches to its ties with the strategically located island nation.
The official statement read that that the Indian government hopes that the decision will help augment India's diplomatic presence in the Maldives and make it commensurate with the existing and aspired level of engagement.
The statement further said that the momentum and energy in the bilateral relationship have reached unprecedented levels under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
The government termed the move as a forward-looking step in pursuit of India’s national priority of growth and development.
The news has since become a much-debated point of discussion here in the Maldives with both sides of the argument well portrayed on social media in recent days.
Some Politicians support the idea
A handful of politicians and parliament members belonging to MDP have voiced their support for an Indian consulate office in the southern City.
MP for Hithadhoo North Constituency Mohamed Aslam tweeted saying that establishing an Indian consulate in Addu City would help businesses flourish in Addu.
MP Aslam has said that this would help to strengthen business ties between the two countries and also make the process of obtaining an Indian visa easier for Maldivians living in Addu City.
This itself presents a much-needed respite for many as India still remains the main destination for Maldivians traveling abroad for medical purposes.
Recently, obtaining a visa to visit India has become an issue in the Maldives with winding queues outside the Indian High Commission in Male' even during the ongoing pandemic.
If a consulate is available in Addu those living in the southern parts of Maldives can apply for a visa directly through the Addu Consulate.
MP for Addu Meedhoo Rozaina Adam pointed out that an Indian consulate office in Addu City would not only benefit Addu but also Fuavumulah and the rest of the south.
Meanwhile, Youth Minister Mahloof Ahmed posed a provoking question by asking why the country still thinks that all the services should only be available in the capital Male'.
Minister Mahloof went out to say that an Indian consulate in Addu would not be a threat to the country's sovereignty but a positive step that could help the region.
He also said that while the Maldives has its consulate in different Indian cities, the country should also welcome this idea too.
The Indian High Commission was quick to point out the stakes it held in Addu City's development and process. It stated in the press release that India is currently executing USD 200 million worth of projects in Addu city such as ports, bridges, roads, water and sanitation systems as well as the socio-economic development of Maldives.
The consulate will also assist hundreds of teachers and nurses native to India working in the south of Maldives.
Public opinion remains divided
The Twitter hashtags #Indiaout and #SaveAddu have now become common on social media feeds as the country took to the platforms to voice its rage over the idea of an Indian consulate in Addu.
Part of the rage stems from how under-developed Addu remains compared to the capital Male'. Some social media users questioned why India had not been investing in the development of the city years before but had decided to open a consulate shortly after initiating a few developmental projects in the city.
Another point of debate is India's blatant support to Israel and its disregard for the plight of Palestine and its people; an issue that remains close to Maldivian hearts.
India's high crime rate had also been highlighted as a potential red flag with the public concerned that crimes like rape, murder, and corruption might increase in Addu City once India opens its diplomatic post in the city.
Some Maldivians are just adamantly rejecting the idea of more Indian soldiers on Maldivian soil for the sake of safeguarding Indian diplomatic interests once a consulate is opened in Addu.
A foreign embassy or consulate in a country remains as the sovereign property of that foreign country and the host country has no control over what happens within the boundaries of those walls.
The former captain at Maldives National Defence Force Ali Ihusaan noted on Twitter that back in 1941, the British did not choose Addu as a Navy and Air force base by accident but due to its strategic importance in projecting power to the Indian Ocean and beyond. He added that the fact remains the same today and questioned why the country was failing to understand the significance of these strategic locations in the Maldives.
He also said that strategically important locations should not have foreign boots, eyes, or ears for the long term.
The retired captain also fired criticism at politicians singing praise for the idea of an Indian consulate in Addu city.
Meanwhile, former Home Minister Umar Naseer believes that some are blind to the big picture that is being painted by the Indian government and also the constant meddling in the affairs of our country can become a fearful issue for our citizens and independence.
He also said that the fact that India has been building Radar stations, Military bases, training centers with their militants, helicopters, and military jets all over the country after shutting up the politicians and that is a major concern for our peaceful county.
But many in the public support the idea of an Indian consulate in Addu City by saying that it would only bring progress and much-needed prosperity amid the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They laugh off the idea of India's security encroachment once its diplomatic outpost is established in Addu and naively question what India hopes to achieve by this decision that would ultimately benefit it.
Maybe a reality check from those living in our sister nation Maliku could offer a more insightful answer to the question of what possibly could India want?