By Indira Guerrero
New Delhi, Jan 10 (EFE).- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the country’s Lakshadweep archipelago to boost tourism has sparked a diplomatic crisis with neighboring Maldives and stirred a nationalist fervor among Indian millionaires and celebrities.
During his visit last week, Modi was photographed snorkeling in a fluorescent orange life jacket and taking a leisurely stroll on one of the archipelago’s picturesque beaches.
However, the diplomatic row with Maldives erupted after three Maldivian deputy ministers reacted to the social media footage of Modi, labeling the 73-year-old Hindu nationalist leader as a “clown” and “puppet of Israel.”
New Delhi condemned the remarks as insulting and derogatory, viewing them as an attack on the nation’s dignity.
Tensions between India and Maldives have escalated in recent months, particularly following the election of Maldivian President Mohammed Muizzu in September, who is perceived as an “anti-India” figure with a pro-China stance, contributing to the strain in bilateral relations.
Muizzu, currently on an official visit to China, on Tuesday said Beijing was one of Maldives’ “closest allies.”
The diplomatic tensions grew up despite the Maldivian government’s decision to suspend the vice-ministers for their “derogatory remarks” that reflected their personal opinions.
The tensions led to both countries summoning each other’s ambassadors on Monday, with Maldives attempting to mitigate an Indian boycott against its tourism industry, heavily reliant on Indian travelers.
The dispute has triggered a wave of nationalist fervor in India for Lakshadweep tourism.
“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 explore Indian Islands and support our own tourism,” Indian cinema actor Akshay Kumar said in a brief statement on social media.
Meanwhile, EaseMyTrip, one of India’s largest travel platforms, has “suspended all flight bookings” to Maldives, according to the company’s co-founder, Nishant Pitti.
MakeMyTrip, another major Indian travel platform, reported a 3400% increase in on-platform searches for Lakshadweep Islands since Modi’s visit.
“This interest in Indian beaches has inspired us to launch a ‘Beaches of India’ campaign on the platform with offers and discounts to encourage Indian travelers to explore country’s stunning beaches,” the business posted on its social media accounts.
The Indian Chamber of Commerce has issued a statement urging trade associations to “boycott Maldives” and redirect resources to promote tourism in the Indian Islands.
Even the Israeli embassy in New Delhi took a stance, encouraging tourists to visit the “enchanting allure” of the Indian Islands, where the Israeli government is “ready” to implement a desalination project.
Lakshadweep, with 35 islands, and Maldives, comprising about 1,000, are located almost opposite each other in the Indian Ocean with both featuring similar pristine waters and idyllic landscapes.
Tourism is the main source of income for Maldives, contributing to almost 30% of its GDP and generating over 60% of its foreign exchange flow, according to official data.
India sends the largest number of visitors to Maldives, with its celebrities promoting luxury tourism in the archipelagic country.
Therefore, an Indian boycott could pose a significant economic threat to the Island nation. EFE