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Mauritius Plays Key Role for Delhi in Indian Ocean Region Amid Row With Maldives

© PhotoIndian Naval Ship Sharda received a warm welcome upon arrival at Port Louis today by Mauritius National Coast Guard ships
Indian Naval Ship Sharda received a warm welcome upon arrival at Port Louis today by Mauritius National Coast Guard ships - Sputnik India, 1920, 14.03.2024
Indian President Droupadi Murmu this week concluded a state visit to Mauritius to attend the National Day celebrations as the chief guest amid an expanding relationship in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood.
The upswing in security, economic and developmental ties between India and Mauritius send a strong message to the Maldives about New Delhi's options in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), a retired Indian Navy Commodore has told Sputnik India.

"The (Indian) President's state visit to Mauritius highlights the country's importance to India in its maritime ambitions in the region. The strengthening of India-Mauritius ties in recent weeks may not be linked to the recent developments in the Maldives but it does send a strong message to the (Mohamed) Muizzu administration about India's options in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood," remarked Commodore (retired) Seshadri Vasan, the Director General of Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) and the Regional Director of National Maritime Foundation (NMF).

His comment came against the backdrop of the first batch of Indian military personnel involved in operating Indian aviation platforms leaving Male at the insistence of Muizzu who has all along been opposed to New Delhi's presence.
At the same time, Muizzu has reportedly purchased drones from Turkiye to keep an eye of the Maldives' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as well as entered into a defence cooperation pact with Beijing to receive "non-lethal weapons" and training.
Under the previous Mohamed Ibrahim Solih administration, Maldives largely relied on India for manning its territorial waters as well as training of its military personnel, a policy which Muizzu has turned on its head since he was sworn-in last November.

How Has New Delhi Reacted to Developments in the Maldives?

At a press conference towards the conclusion of Indian President Droupadi Murmu's state visit to Mauritius, Indian foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra described Mauritius as a "very important component and segment of our priorities" under India's Neighborhood First policy, Prime Minister Modi's vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All) as well as New Delhi's outreach towards Africa.
New Delhi has been viewed as significantly increasing its defence and economic engagements with Sri Lanka and Mauritius, who along with Maldives are part of the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC).
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mauritian Prime Minister jointly inaugurated a new concrete airstrip and a jetty on the Agalega Island. The Indian-funded projects are intended to help Mauritius protect its EEZ of over 2.3 million square kilometres.
Vasan noted that the Agalega facilities had been in the making for over a decade.
Significantly, this month, New Delhi also inaugurated a new naval base, INS Jatayu, at the Arabian Sea archipelago of Lakshadweep.
At the same time, New Delhi has significantly expanded the scope of its community-development projects across the realms of healthcare, infrastructure and education in Mauritius.
Mauritius last month announced that it had become the first nation in the world to join India's Jan Aushadhi scheme to allow easy availability of life-saving generic drugs at affordable prices.
Modi along with leaders from Sri Lanka and Mauritius last month also launched New Delhi's domestic payments platform Unified Payments Interface (UPI) in both Sri Lanka and Mauritius.

Agalega Base Will Help India Thwart Challenges Posed by Maldives

Commodore Vasan said that Muizzu's strategy to involve other players in what essentially is viewed as India's sphere of influence "challenges New Delhi's maritime supremacy" in the Arabian Sea, where Indian Navy is regarded as a "first responder" to any crisis.
"India has to secure its flanks by all means. The initiative in Agalaga will expand the scope of our options in the area now prone to disruptions due to piracy and drone attacks (in view of Gaza crisis). While Maldives does not directly challenge India, its inimical stance warrants exercising multiple options, of which Mauritius is an important factor," the Navy veteran explained.
He noted that funding the Agalega Island projects was part of India's larger Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) campaign in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
Vasan remarked that a "favorauble dispensation" in Mauritius, the presence of a large Indian-origin population and Mauritius' position in the Indian Ocean make the island critical for what has been described as Delhi's 'Double Fish Hook Strategy'.
Describing the goals of the Double Fish Hook Strategy, Vasan highlighted that it hinges on having a presence in the eastern Indian Ocean from Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the Coco Islands off Australia's western coast.
Vasan noted that the fish hook strategy entailed developing a strategic presence in western Indian Ocean, from the Arabian Sea to the southern Indian Ocean near Mauritius, Madagascar, Maldives and Seychelles.
He said that the port of Duqm in Oman was the starting point of this security strategy in the western Indian Ocean.
Vasan opined that New Delhi's double fish hook strategy was meant to "counter" Beijing's 'String of Pearls', which analysts describe a series of ports being developed under Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from Myanmar to Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

'India Has to Secure its Long-Term Maritime Interests'

Vasan underlined the inauguration of a new base in Lakshasweep and India's growing cooperation with Mauritius, Madagascar and previously Maldives were aimed at ensuring that "Indian maritime interests are secured for the next 30-40 years".
He underlined that New Delhi's partnership with these countries catered to the priorities of these island nations as well, in terms of helping with humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR), capacity building or development, or helping with medical evacuations.
"It is entirely up to the Maldives if it wants to tone down its partnership with India, but New Delhi knows very well as to how to protect its strategic interests in the region," the Indian Navy veteran concluded.
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