NEW DELHI: In a major boost for India in the Indian Ocean, the government has bagged ”infrastructure development rights” for two islands in the region – Agalega from Mauritius and Assumption from Seychelles – during PM Narendra Modi’s ocean outreach comprising visits to Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka.
New Delhi marked its Indian Ocean presence with Modi offering to set up joint working groups with the two blue economies in the region to harness potential for economic cooperation. The understanding to allow India to develop these islands is of huge strategic significance for India which is widely seen as having lost out to China in having a purposeful engagement with the littoral states despite its own central location.
The Modi government has sought to address the issue by acknowledging the primacy of Indian Ocean for India’s security and for maintaining peace and stability in the region. Official sources said that the development rights for the two islands had been discussed for months before these were successfully concluded during Modi’s visit in a sign that ”Indian Ocean was going to be India’s Ocean”.
”Our agreement today on the development of infrastructure in the Assumption Island (Seychelles) gives a strong boost to this partnership,” said Modi in a media statement, adding that the ocean economy was indispensable to meeting India’s future challenges. Modi also launched a Coastal Surveillance Radar Project.
India signed an MoU with Mauritius for setting up and upgrading infrastructure for improving sea and air connectivity at the outer island of Mauritius ”which will go a long way in ameliorating the condition of the inhabitants of this remote Island”. Foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said these facilities are also expected to enhance the capabilities of the Mauritian defence forces in safeguarding their interests in the island.
Until recently India seemed ill-equipped to meet the challenge from China which aggressively sought to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean by undertaking mega infrastructure projects in several littoral countries. Its maritime silk road proposal was embraced by many of these countries including Sri Lanka which Modi will be visiting on Friday. China’s decision to send submarines in Indian Ocean right up to the Gulf of Aden in the recent past has added another dimension to the problem for India. While the new government in Sri Lanka is expected to address India’s security concerns which it repeatedly and unsuccessfully raised with the previous government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the situation in Maldives is still not to New Delhi’s liking as pro India former President Mohamed Nasheed remains under detention.
India signed another MoU with Mauritius which will provide an extensive framework for cooperation in the field of ocean economy. It provides for mutually beneficial cooperation for exploration and capacity development in the field of marine resources, fisheries, green tourism, research and development of ocean technology, exchange of experts and other related activities.