India’s role as the “net security provider” in the Indian Ocean region received a major boost when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited three India Ocean nations of Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka on 10-14 March 2015. The three island visit came against the backdrop of China’s increasing focus on the Indian Ocean region and helped to renew India’s commitment to the ocean economies where India envisages its role as a net security provider.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the Seychelles’ capital on 10 March 5. He said that strong relations with Indian Ocean island countries were “vital” for India’s security and progress and “reflects our foreign policy priorities in India’s immediate and extended neighbourhood”. He became the first Indian Prime Minister to travel to Seychelles in 33 years.
Mr Modi inaugurated the first of the eight Coastal Surveillance Radar System (CSRS) being set up by India. These will be manned by the Seychelles Coast Guard.
Both countries signed four pacts—cooperation in hydrography, renewable energy, infrastructure development and sale of navigation charts and electronic navigational charts—that will enhance security and maritime partnership thus strengthening the ties between the two countries. The pacts will also be beneficial for Seychelles to secure the beauty of the islands and the vast expanse of waters around them.
Relations between India and Seychelles have been characterized by close cooperation and understanding. An Indian naval ship, the INS Tarasa, was gifted to Seychelles in 2014 to augment surveillance and patrolling capacity of Seychelles waters. Several Indian ships have since made port calls in Victoria. In 2009, on the request of Seychelles, India dispatched naval ships to patrol its exclusive economic zone and guard it against piracy. India has also helped Seychelles’ armed forces in capacity building. During the Indian presidential visit to Seychelles in 2012, India announced US$ 50 million as Line of Credit and US$ 25 million as grant to the government of Seychelles. Indian assistance has also flowed since the 1980s under ITEC programme in civilian defence and other fields.
After Seychelles, Prime Minister Modi visited Mauritius on March 11-12 and Sri Lanka on March 13-14.
In Mauritius, Prime Minister Modi was the Chief Guest at the Independence Day celebrations on March 12, a date he called special to all Indians because Mahatma Gandhi began his Dandi March on the same date in 1930. He also commissioned MCGS Barracuda—an offshore patrol vessel, built by Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd.
Mr Modi also became the first Indian Prime Minister to travel to Sri Lanka in 28 years. He used the visit to tap into the “substantive” goodwill and historical linkages between India and the three Indian Ocean economies which offer new possibilities of cooperation in defence and economic spheres.
India and Sri Lanka signed four agreements—on visa, customs, youth development and building Rabindranath Tagore memorial in Sri Lanka—during Mr Modi’s maiden visit to the island country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also visited Sri Lanka’s Jaffna province, the first by an Indian premier, and called for equitable development and respect for all in an oblique reference to Tamil civilians who suffered for over two decades in the war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and government forces.
In late 1987, the Indian Army had lost 214 soldiers and officers in destroying the LTTE headquarters in Jaffna after battling for 16 days over heavily mined and booby-trapped terrain without detailed maps to guide them.
In a reference to the extensive rehabilitation work done by India after the LTTE was militarily defeated in 2009, Mr Modi said he was glad that he “was the one to wipe tears from the eyes of those who suffered”. He handed over 27,000 new homes to Tamils who became homeless.