Maldives vs Lakshadweep: What is the controversy?

Modi's visit shines spotlight on the archipelago India wants to develop into a tourist hotspot to rival the Maldives

TTAY2J Minicoy island, Lakshadweep, India. Alamy
Powered by automated translation

A row has erupted online over two rival sets of beautiful islands after India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared a series of photos from the beach.

His visit to the Lakshadweep islands, which belong to India, prompted some social media users to suggest it was a more attractive destination than the Maldives, an island nation whose economy hinges on tourism and is visited by many Indians.

Some supporters of Mr Modi took it further and called for a boycott of the Maldives, prompting an angry reaction from several Maldivian politicians, three of whom were suspended by their government over the row, and even calls for the suspension of business ties between the two countries.

The controversy appears to have benefited Lakshadweep – an official Indian government account shared a post on Tuesday highlighting that Mr Modi's visit had led to "a significant surge in online searches about the islands".

"This worldwide search interest is currently at its highest in the last 20 years, indicating a renewed fascination with its natural beauty and cultural richness,” read a message on the MyGovIndia X account.

Here's everything you need to know.

Where is Lakshadweep?

Lakshadweep is an archipelago of 36 islands in the emerald waters of the Arabian Sea, about 400km off the south-western coastal state of Kerala.

Only 10 of the islands are inhabited. The islands are a union territory of India and are ruled directly by India's Modi-run central government.

The islands are known for their exotic white sandy beaches.

According to the MyGovIndia post, Lakshadweep is characterised by "natural beauty and cultural richness".

What is the controversy?

The controversy erupted last week after many Indian social media users asked tourists to visit Lakshadweep instead of the Maldives, following Mr Modi’s recent visit to the Indian territory.

The Prime Minister, who was on an official visit to the islands in the first week of January, also took part in adventure activities on the pristine beaches where he was seen snorkelling.

Mr Modi urged “those who wish to embrace the adventurer in them” to add Lakshadweep to their travel destinations.

Neither him nor his government had made any reference to the Maldives but his supporters prompted the comparison with the island nation – a popular yet expensive tourist destination among Indians.

More than 200,000 Indians visited the Maldives last year, the Maldivian government said.


Supporters of Mr Modi called for Indians to shun the Maldives and instead visit Lakshadweep.

‘BoycottMaldives’ began trending on social media, prompting fierce reactions from Maldivians.

At least three Maldivian politicians were among those to react, calling out Mr Modi and criticising Lakshadweep.

Mariyam Shiuna, the Deputy Minister of Youth Empowerment, Information and Arts, allegedly called the Indian Prime Minister "a clown” and a “diver in a life jacket” in posts on X that have since been deleted.

Maaiz Mahmood, another Maldivian politician, also shared a picture, believed to be from Bora Bora islands in French Polynesia – which are almost 15,000km away and not even in the same ocean – with the caption “Sunset in Maldives. You won’t see this in Lakshadweep.” He also tagged the Indian Prime Minister.

As the fierce reactions escalated into a diplomatic row, the Maldivian government swiftly sprang into action and suspended the three politicians.

“These opinions are personal and do not represent the views of the government of Maldives,” the Foreign Ministry said. "Moreover, the relevant authorities of the government will not hesitate to take action against those who make such derogatory remarks.

In India, travel agency EaseMyTrip announced the suspension of all flights to the Maldives and launched discount offers to Lakshadweep.

Several Indian actors, including megastar Amitabha Bachchan, and some top cricketers also made posts praising the beauty of Lakshadweep.

Some have even tried to escalate the row to the level of state ties.

The Confederation of All India Traders carried out a protest in the Indian capital Delhi on Tuesday, in which the group called for the suspension of business ties with the Maldives over the dispute.

The Indian government has not commented on the remarks of the Maldivian politicians or responded to calls to suspend business ties.

Updated: January 29, 2024, 6:24 AM