India to Maldives: Big bullies don't provide $4.5bn to neighbors

Combined file photos of (from L-R) Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and Maldivian President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu.

India’s top diplomat strongly rejected the accusation of the country being a bully in the South East Asian region, stating that true bullies do not provide USD 4.5 billion when neighboring countries face difficulties.

The Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar made the remark while addressing an event at the Ananta Aspen Center on Sunday.

The remark takes aim at Maldivian President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu, who, while speaking to reporters in January, said that no country has the right to “bully” Maldives.

President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu returns to Maldives following state visit to China on January 13, 2024. (Photo/Infinite Moments/Mohamed Maavee)

At Sunday’s event, Jaishankar said that India is perceived as a big bully, and that their problem in the neighborhood was with respect to one country.

“Big bullies don’t provide USD 4.5 billion when their neighbors are in trouble. Big bullies don’t supply vaccines to other countries when Covid is on,” he said. “Our problem in the neighborhood is honestly in respect to one country.”

He added that if India were a true bully, it would also not make exceptions to its own rules “to respond to food demands or fuel demands or fertilizer demands because some war in some other part of the world has complicated their lives.”

Explaining how India’s ties with its neighbors have changed over the last decade, Jaishankar said that ties with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and even the Maldives, have improved in terms of trade, investment, and people-to-people exchanges.

Maldivian President Dr. Mohamed Muizzu meets India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 1, 2023. (Photo/President's Office)

“If you actually look today at the connectivity, just the volume of people moving up and down and the volume of the trade which is there, the investments which are there… It is actually a very good story to tell. Not just with Nepal and Bangladesh, but Sri Lanka as well. And I would even say with Maldives. And Bhutan,” he said.

“You have to look today at actually what has changed between India and its neighbors,” he said.

“So, our problem in the neighborhood, very honestly, is in respect to one country. And in diplomacy, yes, always hold out hopes that yes, okay, keep the tact and who knows, one day, what the future holds.”

Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar (L) with Maldivian Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer (R). (Photo/Foreign Ministry)

The Maldivian leader had made the bully remark while speaking to reporters at the Velana International Airport on January 13, after concluding a state visit to China.

“We may be small, but that doesn’t give you the license to bully us,” he said, without explicitly stating which country the remark was directed.

While President Muizzu did not explicitly state that the remark was directed at India, it was widely taken as such, especially given his publicly stated plans to end Maldives’ dependency on its powerful neighbor, and the demand that it withdraw its troops from country.