Operation Cactus In 1988- How India Saved Maldives – Indian Military’s Op

Operation Cactus In 1988- How India Saved Maldives – Indian Military’s Op ? 

During Operation Cactus, the Indian Navy was called in to rescue the Maldivian hostages taken by Sri Lankan mercenaries in the coast of Sri Lanka. After the Maldivian coup headed by a once prominent Maldivian businessperson named Abdullah Luthufi, who was operating a farm on Sri Lanka. INS Godavari (F20) and INS Betwa captured the freighter rescued the hostages and arrested the mercenaries near the Sri Lankan coast.

Maldives Geography


  • 200 coral Islands i.e. Only 200 islands are inhabitant out of 1200.
  • Capital : Male i.e. 5.8 square Km
  • World’s lowest country i.e. Island elevation is only 1.5 m.
  • Asia’s smallest country – 300 square Km (Also smallest by population wise).


  • British colony till 1965
  • 1965 – Independence
  • 1977 – 2008 Abdul Gayoom President for 30 years

Photo of Rajiv Gandhi with Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The Attempted Coup d’etat

Abdul Gayoom

  • Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
  • 3rd November 1988 – 3rd attempted Coup
  • The coup was carried out by Sri Lankan Tamil militants – the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) – on behalf of the Maldivian businessman Abdulla Luthufi.
  • PLOTE was a rival faction of LTTE in Sri Lankan.
  • About 80 armed PLOTE mercenaries landed in the capital Male before dawn of 3rd November 1988 abroad speedboats.
  • Disguised as visitors, a similar number had already infiltrated Male earlier.
  • The mercenaries quickly gained control of the capital, including the major government buildings, airport, port and television and radio stations.
  • However, they failed to capture President Gayoom from its president palace.
  • President sent SOS (Save Our Souls) to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, USA , UK – (all countries refused and said we are very far away, ask India) and India.
  • Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi immediately dispatched 1,600 troops by air (total were 3,000 troops).
  • The Indian troops landed at the Male International Airport on Hulehule Island within 9 hours of the SOS being sent.

India’s Challenges

India's Challenges

  • Geography – Para force located in Agra – 2700 Km away
  • Small size of Male and the lack of space for para-dropping.
  • Rations, fuels
  • Para tooper jumps from plane but Male is small and parashoot drop was risky , so planned to land the plane.
  • Luck was in India’s favour as militants were not in airport of Maldives.

Why this operation is called Cactus?

Operation Cactus

  • It is interesting fact that Maldives is a group of coral Islands.
  • Corals have sharp edges and they will prick you like Cactus.
  • When you touch them, you may bleed.

Operation Cactus – Daring Operation By The Indian Military Entry In Maldives 

Photograph of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi with Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mrs. Gayoom

  • The Indian paratroopers immediately secured the airfield, crossed over to Male using commandeered boats and rescued President Gayoom.
  • The paratroopers restored control of the capital to President Gayoom’s government within hours.

How India Captured Luthfee ?

  • Luthufi escaped in a small vessel which the paratroopers managed to damage but not stop.
  • Subsequently, INS Godavari and INS Betwa were dispatched to track it down and capture him and the mercenaries.
  • Lutufi and mercenaries was taken into the custody. 10 to 15 militants were killed.
  • This was a successful operation for the Indian Military without the prior full knowledge of map area of Maldives.
  • Leader of the Operation Cactus was Brigadier FC Bulsara.
  • India received international praise for the operation.
  • Ibrahim Nasir, the ex president of Maldives was blamed for being the leader behind it all but he was later pardoned by Gaoom.

“Operation Cactus enhanced India’s prestige enormously and showed our efficiency and capability to mount a successful operation at short notice. There was universal acknowledgement of our role as a police force in the area.”

-Said by BG Deshmukh, Cabinet Secretary

Lessons for India

  • The Indian Ocean is becoming more important by the day and India has vital stakes in its stability.
  • The small island states in the area are vulnerable to the kind of threat that compelled India to send its paratroopers in 1988 on behalf and at the invitation of an elected government.
  • There have been similar threats in Mauritius and Seychelles and are still vulnerable.
  • Tri-service capability of quick reaction.

Facts Related to Operation Cactus

1. This operation was happened in November 3, 1998.

2. President of Maldives called that his country was under siege from Sri Lankan.

3. Well armed trained forces of Sri Lankan group – People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam entered Male (Maldives’s capital) and took control of key points in the city. – Abdullah Luthufi

4. Rebellions failed to capture president Abdul Gayoom who had taken refuge in Maldives National Securities Service HQ.

5. Maldives Requested Military Assistance from several Countries.

  • India
  • US
  • Britain
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka
  • Malaysia
  • Some other Asian Countries.

Sri Lanka – Commandos

Malaysia – Navy

US – US Marine

6. But other countries ruled out direct intervention due to distance and worked with Britain to help coordinate a response from India.

7. First such operation to be led by India on a foreign land after Independence and without UN’s Involvement. Most ambitious airborne operation since 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

8. 300 paratroops from Agra to Male landed on Island Hulhule. Operation under guidance of Brigadier FC Bulsara. Paratroops saved president and he had talked with Rajiv Gandhi.

9. Maldivian president requested that rebels be captured and brought back to Male to face trial.

  • Rescue the hostages and captured the rebels.
  • Terrorists killed 4 hostages and surrendered to INS Godavari and Betwa.

All the best for your upcoming exam!

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