The External Affairs Ministry on Monday summoned Maldivian High Commissioner to India Ibrahim Shaheeb after three deputy ministers of the island-nation made remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi that many Indians deemed to be derogatory.

The comments pertained to Modi’s post showing him snorkelling during his recent visit to Lakshadweep. Maldivian minister Maryam Shiuna had reacted to the picture calling Modi a “clown”. “The puppet of Israel Mr Narendra diver with life jacket,” she had said in her now-deleted post on X (formerly Twitter).

Following the uproar, Shiuna and two other minsters – Malsha Shareef and Mahzoom Majid – were suspended on Sunday.

Amid escalating calls for a boycott of Maldives on social media by Indian citizens, the travel website EaseMyTrip on Monday suspended bookings for all flights to the island-country.

Nishant Pitti, EaseMyTrip’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said in a post on X that the move was “in solidarity with our nation”. In another post, he wrote, “Say no to Maldives bookings and explore the wonders of Ayodha and Lakshadweep.”

The Indian Chamber of Commerce on Monday appealed to Indian tourism and trade associations to “stop promoting Maldives in view of the anti-India feelings expressed by ministers of Maldives.”

In a statement to the press, Subash Goyal, chairman of the chamber’s Aviation, Travel and Tourism Committee appealed to associations: “Please divert all such queries to Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands which are even better than Maldives in many ways.”

Travel companies in India have reported a sudden drop in the number of inquiries they typically receive from tourists wanting to visit the Maldives, ANI reported on Monday.

“Suddenly, there has been no inquiry on Maldives,” the news agency quoted Rajiv Mehra, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, as saying. “Those who have made payments will not cancel them. We are expecting that people will not book trips to the Maldives.”

The Maldives government has distanced itself from the remarks, saying that the ministers’ opinions are personal and do not represent official views.

“Freedom of expression should be exercised in a democratic and responsible manner, and in ways that do not spread hatred, negativity, and hinder close relationships between the Maldives and international partners,” the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Ties between India and the Maldives have been strained after President Mohamed Muizzu was sworn into power in November.

Muizzu is widely seen as sympathetic to China’s interests in his country, in contrast to his predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih who had sought closer ties with India even as government critics accused him of “compromising the sovereignty” of the island nation.

Also read: Why a social media row over Modi’s tweets led to the suspension of three Maldives ministers