Rajnath on 3-day visit to Maldives from Monday

New Delhi: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is set to embark on a three-day visit to the Maldives beginning Monday with an aim to bolster bilateral defence and strategic ties, people familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

Separately, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari is likely to visit Sri Lanka on Monday.

The planned visits by the defence minister and the Chief of Air Staff to the two key maritime neighbours of India come amid China’s persistent efforts to expand its influence in the countries of the region.

During his trip to the Maldives, Singh is likely to meet Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid and Defence Minister Mariya Didi among others.

The defence minister will leave for the Maldives on Monday and will return on Wednesday, the people said.

“The focus of the visit will be further expand bilateral defence cooperation,” one of the people said.

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.

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

Under the 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.

Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane visited Maldives last month during which he held talks with his Maldivian counterpart Major General Abdulla Shamaal.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari is set to visit Sri Lanka on May 1.