The pretext to this piece of writing is Narendra Modi’s statement and vision about Indian Ocean “To me the blue chakra or wheel in India’s national flag represents the potential of Blue Revolution or the Ocean Economy. That is how central the Ocean Economy is to us.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-nation Indian Ocean tour stands in testimony to this region’s critical importance for Indian security. He has once again upset China’s silk route plans and its maritime ambitions. If China gains the upper hand in the Indian Ocean region, it will mark the end of India’s great-power ambitions. India would merely a regional power which would be detrimental to our ambitions. In a major fillip for India in the Indian Ocean, we bagged two important ‘‘infrastructure development rights‘‘ for two islands in the region – Agalega from Mauritius and Assumption from Seychelles. 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 the potential for economic cooperation.
Underlining that the Indian Ocean Region sits atop policy priorities, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the time had come for a “strong grouping around the Indian Ocean” and that India will “pursue with this new vigor in the years ahead”.Modi said his government’s vision for the Indian Ocean was rooted in “advancing cooperation in our region” and to use “our capabilities for the benefit of all in our common maritime home”.
Furthermore, In Seychelles Narendra Modi unveiled the Plaque and Operationalized the Radar for CSRS (Coastal Surveillance Radar System) – India-Seychelles Cooperation Project. It has already caused much tension in our western and Eastern neighbor.
— EconomicTimes (@EconomicTimes) March 11, 2015
Why Indian Ocean is central to our Security
The readers of Indian history would well realize that Indian Ocean has been pivotal in India’s growth. Indian Ocean is the only ocean in the world name after a country. In words Nehru “History has shown that whatever power controls the Indian Ocean has, in the first instance, India’s sea-borne trade at her mercy and, in the second, India’s very independence itself.”
In past centuries whichever power had control over its sea lanes more or less controlled India’s trade. First it was the Portuguese (15th century) than English. Back in 1686 when British tried to assert their power in India for the first time they were beaten by Mughals but still their rights to trade in India were not taken away (which were issued by Jahangir in 1686), largely because Mughals were aware that British could hurt India’s trade in the Ocean as they were controlling it at that time. Indian Ocean is the only ocean in this world named after a country and it happened for a reason.
Furthermore, in a letter to London a high ranking official in India said, back in 19th century that we will be able to keep India under our control until we are a supreme naval force. It happened just the way he said. 1946 there was a mutiny in Indian’s Navy and that has been underplayed by our historians. British had realized helped by many other concurrent events that now their time was over.
Indian Ocean: Changing Dynamics
As Indians, we associate a lot of pride with it. It was through its sea routes that India’s trade happened. A trade that was once called the trade of the world and helped us emerge as the largest economy pre-industrial revolution times. Keeping in mind the increased focus on China and its ambitious but surreptitious designs like Maritimes silk route, it has become imperative for India to shift its focus to Indian Ocean as well if not more than certainly as much as its land frontiers.
Narendra Modi visited Indian Ocean region and its small but strategically located islands. He covered Seychelles, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka. A day before the Prime Minister began his tour in the Indian Ocean Region, both the battle group along with warships from Western fleet, armed with fighter jets, helicopters, reconnaissance planes, missiles and other weaponry reached Kochi. It marks an ambitious and well-timed departure from its earlier stand “Indian Ocean as a Zone of peace”. Narendra Modi and his team of advisors led by NSA Ajit Dhoval realize it well that theory cannot always be put into practice.
All these three nations are considered vital for maritime security, particularly with the ever present pirates in the region. The Indian Ocean is going to be the most important ocean with concentration of most important energy routes between Strait of Malacca to the Gulf of Aden, an area which is full of maritime activities as 70 per cent of the oil container traffic passes through.
Off late, China has been deepening its relations with littoral (bordering) states to the Indian Ocean Region, particularly Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Seychelles as part of its String of Pearls diplomacy to counter India’s Look East Policy, which is often described as Encircle China policy by Beijing.
The Indian Ocean promises to shape the wider geopolitics and balance of power in Asia and beyond. India, in the context of Chinese plans like Maritime Silk Route and its ‘development push’ in Indian Ocean region, needs to act fast.
We must capitalize on our geographic advantage
Blessed by a very suitable Geography and its advantages India has an inherent maritime advantage. Due to our troubled relation with Pakistan and China our maritime advantages have not been properly utilized, we have not created deep assets in the region. To make matters, worse India diplomatically neglected the Indian Ocean region in the 25-year period from 1989 till now. India’s long neglect has become China’s strategic gain. Narendra Modi is the first prime minister to visit Seychelles in 34 years and Sri Lanka in 28 years.
China helped by its deep pockets has sought to ‘help’ the littoral states in the region, it has even tried to seek possibilities of a naval frontier to neutralize India’s natural geographic advantage.
Alongside developing strategic assets in the region India needs to significantly modernize its naval power. India should have the power to holdback container traffic to China choking its Energy lines should a war be imposed on us.
Takeaways for India
- India signed a MoU with Mauritius for setting up and upgrading infrastructure for improving sea and air connectivity on the outer island of Mauritius
- India signed another MoU with Mauritius which will provide an extensive framework for cooperation in the field of the ocean economy. It will seek opportunities in the field of marine resources, fisheries, green tourism, research and development of ocean technology, exchange of experts and other related activities.
- Modi also commissioned the India-built coast ship Barracuda in Mauritius on the second leg of his three-nation visit.
Barracuda will also help make our Indian Ocean safer and more secure: PM @narendramodi
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) March 12, 2015
- In Seychelles Narendra Modi unveiled the Plaque and Operationalized the Radar for CSRS (Coastal Surveillance Radar System) – India-Seychelles Cooperation Project. It will add a lot to India’s surveillance capabilities in the region.
Acting to correct the loss of the past and the time wasted on account of previous government’s failure, Modi government has sought to address the issue by capitalizing on cultural links helped by his famous Charm offensive. Taking a note India’s primacy of Indian Ocean for India’s security and for maintaining peace and stability in the region Narendra Modi has stressed that the ”Indian Ocean was and is going to be India’s Ocean”. The competition for influence in the Indian Ocean is pivotal to our global power ambitions. This is a contest India cannot afford to lose.