ON THE first day of his third term in office on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to meet visiting foreign leaders who will come for the swearing-in ceremony Sunday.

The most significant among them will be Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu if he chooses to attend the ceremony, despite the setback in bilateral ties.

A Maldives government official told The Indian Express that President Muizzu is expected to attend Prime Minister Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi over the weekend. However, there was no official announcement yet.

News portal Edition.mv quoted its sister publication in Dhivehi, Mihaaru News, as saying that President Muizzu will leave for New Delhi on Saturday for the ceremony, accompanied by several senior government officials.

Leaders of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Mauritius and Seychelles have also been invited to the ceremony. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh HasinaSri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda have officially confirmed their attendance, and more confirmations are awaited.

Festive offer

If President Muizzu comes to India for the swearing-in ceremony, he will follow the footsteps of his mentor and one of his predecessors, Abdullah Yameen, who had come for Modi’s first oath-taking ceremony in May 2014. In 2019, Maldives was not invited since India had invited the BIMSTEC countries.

Soon after coming to power in November 2023, Muizzu, who is seen as pro-China, had asked India to withdraw its military personnel from the island country. Muizzu had defeated the incumbent, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in the presidential election on the “India Out” plank.

In February this year, the two countries had agreed that India would pull out all its 80-odd military personnel stationed in the Maldives between March 10 and May 10. This was completed by May 10. The MEA confirmed that they have come back and have been replaced by “competent Indian technical personnel”.

On May 9, Maldives Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer flew down to Delhi in the first high-level visit since Muizzu came to power, and met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. The two leaders had “extensive discussions” on “bilateral relations” and “regional security issues”.

Jaishankar conveyed to Zameer that as “close and proximate neighbours”, the development of India-Maldives ties was based on “mutual interests” and “reciprocal sensitivity”. The reference to regional security issues and basing the ties on “mutual interests” and “reciprocal sensitivity” are thinly-veiled reference to the pro-Chinese tilt of the Maldives government led by Muizzu.

In April, India had approved the highest-ever export quotas for essential commodities — eggs, potatoes, onions, sugar, rice, wheat flour and pulses, river sand and stone aggregates — to Maldives for 2024-25 under a unique bilateral mechanism. The approved quantities are the highest since this arrangement came into effect in 1981.

After the increase, Zameer had thanked India for its gesture to renew the quota.

So, groundwork had been prepared for Muizzu’s visit, as on Wednesday, Muizzu congratulated Modi and voiced his desire to work with the Indian Prime Minister to advance bilateral ties. “Congratulations to Prime Minister @narendramodi and the BJP and BJP-led NDA, on the success in the 2024 Indian General Election, for the third consecutive term. I look forward to working together to advance our shared interests in pursuit of shared prosperity and stability for our two countries,” Muizzu posted on X.

Officials said the swearing-in ceremony is expected to witness the presence of leaders from neighboring countries, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Mauritius, and Seychelles, in addition to the Maldives, as part of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

Modi’s invitation to the leaders from the neighborhood is part of the engagement with the countries in the region. In 2014, he had called the leaders from SAARC countries and in 2019, he had invited the countries from BIMSTEC. While Pakistan was invited in 2014, as part of the SAARC grouping, it was left out in 2019 due to the deterioration of ties and the BIMSTEC regional grouping was invited instead.