India on Wednesday announced that Union minister Kiren Rijiju will represent it at the oath-taking of Maldivian president-elect Mohamed Muizzu on Friday. The Maldives had invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the oath-taking of Muizzu. Prime Minister Modi had attended the swearing-in ceremony of incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in September 2018. His visit to the Maldives had laid the foundation for strong ties between the two countries.

Widely seen as a pro-China leader, Muizzu defeated incumbent President Solih in the presidential runoff in September.

After winning the election, Muizzu has maintained that he will keep his election promise of evicting Indian military personnel from his country.

While Prime Minister Modi was the only head of a government to attend Solih’s swearing-in ceremony, it is learnt that several foreign leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping have been invited to Muizzu’s oath-taking.

“At the invitation of the President-elect of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu, Kiren Rijiju, Minister of Earth Sciences will visit Maldives from 16-18 November to represent India at the inaugural ceremony of the presidency,” the MEA said.

It said the high-level ministerial representation from India at the inaugural ceremony underscores India’s commitment to further deepen the substantive cooperation and robust people-to-people ties between the two countries.

“Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region and occupies a special place in the prime minister’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’,” the MEA said in a statement.

The Maldives is one of India’s key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean Region and the overall bilateral ties including in areas of defence and security have been on an upward trajectory in the last few years.

Solih had been consistently focusing on boosting ties with India and was pursuing an “India First” policy.

In May, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited the Maldives during which he handed over a fast patrol vessel and a landing craft to the island nation.

In August last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Solih kick-started the India-funded Greater Male connectivity project, billed as the largest infrastructure initiative in the island nation.

Under the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP) project, a 6.74-km-long bridge and causeway link will be built to connect the capital city Male with adjoining islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi.

The Maldives is also one of the biggest beneficiaries of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.