Understanding the politics and pragmatism behind Modi's Lakshadweep visit

Modi’s visit to Lakshadweep was aimed at putting the islands on tourism map


Move over the Maldives, Modi has just chosen to throw his weight—and 9.4 million followers—behind Lakshadweep.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is hoping to use pictures of 'paradise on earth' to change geography. White sandy beaches, clear blue waters and snorkeling in Lakshadweep—seen in the photos that Modi posted—are likely to change the fortunes of the tiny group of islands, and make it a sought-after tourism destination.

Modi’s visit to Lakshadweep was aimed at putting the islands on the tourism map. With Indians flocking to Maldives in droves, and the numbers to the desi version of these virgin white beaches only in thousands, the idea is to boost tourism numbers. The relationship between India and the Maldives may be tense over removing the military presence in the country; the government appears to be trying to divert Indian tourists to a closer destination and using economics to prove a point.

The Maldives ministry of tourism revealed that by June 2023 the country had welcomed 8,61,167 tourists, with Indian travellers amounting to a whopping 101,348.

At a time when the new President Mohamed Muizzu is due to travel to Beijing—the first Maldivian President to choose to visit China before India—next week, Modi’s break for tranquility acquires a less than sunny spin for the Maldives. And using tourism to change the fortunes of the place is very much part of the Modi mantra. The push on Kashmir, especially post the G20 programme, is proving to be a gamechanger for the state. Together with the emphasis on wed in India, Modi has chosen to use nationalism to try to nudge Indians to take a more made in India holiday.

However, there is a little more than tourism at stake. The archipelago is also a very much strategic location. With over 96 percent Muslim population that Modi is wooing—at a time when there is growing anti-Indian sentiment in Maldives together with a certain radicalization—it is also a message. There is also the aspect of the islands being essential to India’s Indo-Pacific strategy. It is close to the Nine Degree Channel; 12 ships cross this channel every minute. This is an advantage that India has—and Modi is counting on that message going through.

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