Written by: Deepa Venkatesan
The flag of Maldives (via Wikipedia)
Fifty-one years ago, on July 26th, President Ibrahim Nasir had signed a historic agreement with the British government securing full independence for the Maldives- which includes 26 natural atolls and 1192 islands (out of which only 200 are inhabited). Since then, this small nation has worked its way up to become one of the most dynamic economies of South Asia, especially leading the race in the tourism industry.
Here’s a little historical insight-
- The first settlers in Maldives were people from the southern shores of the neighbouring Indian subcontinent. Comparative studies of Maldivian linguistic and oral traditions confirm this.
- Maldivian is a descendant of Maharashtri Prakrit and is closely related to the Marathi, Konkani and Sinhalese languages, but not mutually intelligible with them. But it has also been influenced by French, Persian, Portuguese, Hindustani, and English. The current and officially used language in Maldives is Dhivehi.
- In all probability, Buddhism spread across the islands during the 3rd century B.C and this effectively impacted the foundation of early cultural practices.
- Inhabitants of the Middle east became interested in Maldives due to its strategic location and thus, 12th century marked the beginning of spread of Islam here. It is worth noticing that compared to the other areas of South Asia, the conversion of the Maldives to Islam happened relatively late.
- The Maldives also witnessed its colonial era with rulers such as Portuguese, Dutch and British settling here in the same order. It remained a British crown protectorate until 1953 when the sultanate was suspended and the First Republic was declared under the short-lived presidency of Muhammad Amin Didi.
- In the early 1980s, with a population of 156,000, the Maldives was one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. Today, the country’s population is over 350,000, and it is a middle-income country with a per capita income of over $6,300 (courtesy: Global Times).
- Maldives follows the framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President is the Head of Government.
The Indian president, Pranab Mukherjee’s long greeting to Maldivians throws light on the strategic relation that the two countries have historically maintained. His message:
“On behalf of the Government, the people of India and on my own behalf, I convey warm greetings and felicitations to you and the people of the Republic of Maldives on the occasion of your 51st Independence Day.
India and Maldives share a common strategic interest in peace, stability, progress and prosperity of our countries and the Indian Ocean region. I am confident that the strong foundation of our bilateral relations and the continuing efforts of both Governments will help us to meet common challenges. Recalling your visit in April 2016, allow me to reiterate that India is committed to support Maldives in the achievement of its national goals.
Please accept, Excellency, my best wishes for continued progress, prosperity and happiness of the people of Maldives.”
But apart from India, Maldives has strong bi-lateral ties with the Chinese who have heavily invested in infrastructural projects in the islands. In a recent interview with China’s Global Times, the Maldives Ambassador to China, Mohamed Faisal stated:
“As we celebrate the 51st anniversary of our independence, the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge project and the Airport Expansion Project, two of the biggest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the country, are underway with generous Chinese assistance. There is no doubt that China will be a significant partner as the Maldives looks to achieve new heights in economic and social development in the new century.”
For more information about Maldives’ Independence, here’s a detailed timeline.