The Maldives is expected to retain two Indian military helicopters which it was bent upon returning to India under the previous Yameen Abdul Gayoom regime only to cause embarrassment to New Delhi.

According to sources, the new government, headed by Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, believes that it must keep the helicopters as a ‘precious gift’ from a friendly neighbour. This is understood to have been conveyed by Solih’s aides to Indian officials who accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Male for the inauguration of the new President on Saturday.

The Yameen government had asked India to take back the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters operated by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard crew.

The refusal to retain the helicopters and renew the visas of the 28 Indian crew were the most indicators of the fact that Male was distancing itself from New Delhi even as Yameen brought in millions in Chinese investment. He had also supported China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that India opposes.

India had gifted the choppers to the Maldives in 2013. They were based in Gan, in the southern atoll of Addu and at Laamu in the north of the island chain.

The locations are strategically important as they stride the sea lanes of communication (SLOC) between Africa/West Asia and East Asia through which much of Chinese mercantile traffic sails.

In June this year, Male expressed its desire to return the helicopters, prompting New Delhi to suspect that Chinese influence in the archipelago was working against it.

Meanwhile, it is understood that during his bilateral meeting with Modi on Saturday, Solih briefed the Indian leader on the dire economic situation facing his nation. The two leaders discussed ways in which India could continue development partnership, particularly help the new government in meeting its pledges to the people.

Solih highlighted the pressing need for increased housing and infrastructure development as well as for establishing water and sewerage system.

Solih is expected to visit India in December to discuss with Modi how India could assist his country in various development projects.