After a group of protestors staged an anti-India demonstration in Maldives, the country’s foreign ministry on Friday issued a statement denouncing the agitation.

At the demonstrations that took place on Thursday, some of the protestors wore masks depicting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while others held banners that read, “India Out”.

In its statement, the Maldivian foreign ministry blamed the country’s Opposition parties for the protests. The demonstration did not “only provoke hatred, but also promote hostility with the objective of tarnishing the country’s long-standing cordial ties with India”, the Maldivian government said.

The immediate trigger of the protests on Thursday is not clear, but Opposition parties in Maldives have been using the “India Out” campaign since 2020 to target the government.

In April last year, such protests had been banned after they gained traction under the leadership of former President Abdulla Yameen. At that time, the protestors had alleged that the government had become “a puppet of New Delhi” and was allowing India to have a military presence in the island country.

In 2018, the Maldives government had issued a clarification after media reports claimed that India was planning to offer it a loan of $1 billion in exchange for permanent deployment of Indian troops in the country. The reports had cited unidentified Indian officials saying that the loan was conditioned on Male distancing itself from China as well as on allowing India to deploy its security personnel to the island nation.

The roots of the “India Out” campaign are in the change in Maldives’ foreign policy since Ibrahim Mohamed Solih took over as the president in 2018. The previous dispensation led by Abdulla Yameen was seen to have been closer to China than India. During Yameen’s tenure between 2013 and 2018, Maldives was estimated to have borrowed US$ 1.5 billion (over Rs 12,000 crore) from China, according to a paper published by the Observer Research Foundation.

“In 2018, his [Yameen] government asked India to withdraw its helicopters and operatives from the country, accusing them of espionage and violating sovereignty,” the paper noted.

However, after Solih came in power, he shelved a number of Chinese projects in the country. He also undertook “India First” as a stated policy. Since then, India and Maldives have signed deals across sectors like defence, roads, agriculture, sanitation, education and maritime security.