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India's Modi slammed as 'puppet of Israel' in row with Maldives over beach visit

A social media account linked to Israeli embassy in India said it was ready to start work on India's island chain after a spat with Maldives
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 36 islands in India (Narendra Modi/Twitter)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promotion of tourism on an Indian island chain has sparked a row with the Maldives after senior officials from that country accused Modi of being a “puppet of Israel”.

The tussle started when Modi posted a seemingly innocuous image of himself reclining on a lounge chair at a white sand beach in Lakshadweep, an archipelago of 36 Indian islands. Other pictures showed the 73-year-old leader snorkelling and wearing an orange life vest.

“Those early morning walks along the pristine beaches were also moments of pure bliss,” Modi wrote on the social media platform, X.

Modi has championed Hindu nationalism, and more recently, his government has been accused of orchestrating the assassinations of opponents overseas. But for the tiny, tourism-dependent nation of the Maldives, it was Modi’s beach vacation that struck a nerve. 

Maryam Shiuna, a deputy minister in the Maldives’ government, labelled Modi “a clown” and “puppet of Israel” on X. Another official slammed Modi as a “terrorist”.

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Modi’s beach picture provoked backlash because it was seen as an attempt to pinch tourists away from the Maldives.

Modi has been trying to develop Lakshadweep’s tourism since 2021. The island chain lies just 100 miles north of the Maldives and could become a challenger to it.

The island archipelago nation south of the subcontinent has carved out a niche for itself catering to well-heeled, jet-setting tourists. It was allegedly a favourite spot for Mohammed Bin Salman to host raucous beach parties before he became the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

Tourism accounts for roughly a third of the Maldives' economy, according to the World Bank; and Indians, along with Russians, are the top visitors.

The Lakshadweep island chain lies just 100 miles north of the Maldives.

On Monday, one of India's largest travel sites suspended flight bookings to the Maldives. Indian celebrities have started social media campaigns to promote ditching the Maldives in favour of Indian beach spots like Lakshadweep.

After the uproar, the Maldivian government said it had suspended three deputy ministers who made the critical remarks. Their social media posts were deleted and disavowed by the government.

But Modi is close to Israel, and on Monday an account on X linked to the Israeli embassy in India appeared to turn the criticism against Modi into a sign of endorsement.

“We were in #Lakshadweep last year upon the federal government's request to initiate the desalination program,” the social media post said.

“Israel is ready to commence working on this project tomorrow.”

Other social media users critical of Modi reacted to the news, seemingly praising the Maldivian officials.

“After India's objection, the government of the Maldives has suspended three deputy ministers because they called Modi a “clown”, “terrorist” and “puppet of Israel”. Truth hurts. Always,” one person wrote on social media platform X.

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