Maldives row sparks beach boycott campaign in India

Bollywood actors and some of India's cricket greats urge their compatriots to boycott southern neighbour and instead book next holiday closer to home


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A general view shows people at a beach in Hulhumale on December 26, 2023. — AFP
A general view shows people at a beach in Hulhumale on December 26, 2023. — AFP

Published: Tue 9 Jan 2024, 2:14 PM

The Maldives is in hot water over calls by Indian celebrities for a boycott of the tropical beach destination, following derogatory remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi by government ministers.

Tourism makes up nearly one-third of the economy in the archipelago nation, known for its upscale resorts and celebrity visitors, with Indians making up the largest share of foreign arrivals.

Racy photos by Bollywood starlets and social media influencers vacationing in the Maldives are also a regular source of fodder for tabloids and online news sites in India.

President Mohamed Muizzu's administration has been scrambling to contain a diplomatic row with India after three of its junior ministers reportedly called Modi a "clown" and a "terrorist" in since-deleted social media posts last week.

Bollywood actors and some of India's cricket greats have responded with calls for their compatriots to boycott their southern neighbour and instead book their next holiday closer to home.

"Why should we tolerate such unprovoked hate?" Akshay Kumar, one of Indian cinema's most bankable actors, wrote Monday on X in a post since viewed more than 6.5 million times.

"I've visited the Maldives many times and always praised it, but dignity first," he added, urging other Indians to "support our own tourism".

National cricket vice-captain Hardik Pandya said he was "extremely sad to see what's being said about India" and that he was planning his next holiday at a beach in his country.

EaseMyTrip, a platform with nearly 10 percent of the market share for online travel bookings in India, joined the boycott on Monday by suspending flight bookings to the archipelago.

The row has continued despite Muizzu suspending the ministers Sunday, with local media reporting that the Maldivian envoy was summoned to the foreign ministry in New Delhi the following day.

The ministers' comments were prompted by a social media post of Modi's in which he praised the "pristine beaches" of Lakshadweep, an Indian island not far from the Maldives which his government has sought to promote as a tourist destination.

Known as an expensive holiday destination with secluded resorts, the Maldives is also a geopolitical hotspot where India and China are competing for influence.

Global east-west shipping lanes pass the nation's chain of 1,192 tiny coral islands, stretching around 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator.

India's government has traditionally considered the Maldives, home to around half a million people, to be within its sphere of influence.

Muizzu, currently visiting China on his first official state visit since coming to power last year, was elected after pledging to expel Indian troops stationed in the Maldives.

But after his election, Muizzu toned down his anti-Indian rhetoric and said he would not upend the regional balance by replacing Indian forces with Chinese troops.

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