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Dr Singh set to create history in Maldives

Last updated on: November 12, 2011 10:50 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be the first head of state to address the People's Majlis, reports Prasanna D Zore from Male, Maldives

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will create history when he addresses the People's Majlis -- the 77-member Maldivian Parliament -- sometime on Saturday after 11.45 am local time (IST 12.15 pm). He will be the first head of state to have addressed the Majlis in its 78-year-old existence.

Majlis Speaker Abdullah Nashid had formally invited the Indian prime minister to address the Majlis during the latter's visit to attend the 17th SAARC Summit that concluded on Friday.

The PM will also hold a bilateral meeting with Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed before his address.

India is likely to sign a number of agreements with Maldives on a range of issues including tackling Somalian piracy in the Indian Ocean, a new credit line to help the development of the island nation and a counter-terrorism agreement.

"The objective of the visit would be to reinforce India's close bonds of friendship and solidarity with Maldives and to review the current status of our bilateral relations with that country.  A number of agreements are likely to be signed during the bilateral visit," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told reporters before the 17th SAARC Summit began in Addu City, a beautiful atoll south of the Equator.

Dr Singh's bilateral meeting with President Nasheed comes at a time when China is trying to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean under its 'string of pearls' policy. The term was coined by an American researcher to describe China's maritime influence extending from Hong Kong to Sudan, including its naval presence in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, that threatens India's dominance in South Asia.

"We see the Indian Navy as a significant stabilising force in the Indian Ocean region, which safeguards traffic bound not only for our own ports, but also the flow of hydrocarbons and strategically important cargo to and from the rest of the world across the strategic waterways close to our shores," former Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta had stated at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore in May 2009.

Almost 75 per cent of sea trade between the oil-rich gulf and the consumer nations of South East Asia passes through the Indian Ocean.

China, on November 8, opened its embassy in the Maldivian capital of Male, a move that has not gone down too well with India as New Delhi perceives this as a threat to its dominant position in South Asia.

In a related development, the number of Chinese tourists visiting the island nation has doubled compared to last year, according to Sharaph Mohammed, a local journalist who has been studying Chinese and Pakistani presence in the Maldives.

India, though, doesn't seem to be worried about China's expanding presence in Maldives.

"We have a very strong relationship with Maldives including a very close defence relationship. They are fully cognizant of our interests and our concerns. We do not see any reason to be concerned," the foreign secretary had stated during his briefing before the multilateral summit.

China and the US were among the observer nations that witnessed the proceedings at the two-day SAARC summit. 

While details of the bilateral meeting between India and its neighbour in the Indian Ocean will be available only after the meeting gets over, political observers in Male are waiting for the PM's address to the People's Majlis with keen interest.

Image: The People's Majlis | Photograph: Prasanna D Zore

Prasanna D Zore