March 28, 2015

Why Indian ocean is called ocean of strategy

As Narendra Modi embarked on his official trip to three Indian Ocean sojourn, all eyes are now set to the changing dynamics of the Indian Ocean. Srilanka, also called the Emerald Island is located very strategically in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka is barely a few tens of miles from the vital sea routes. It is located almost mid-way between the two choke points of the world, the Strait of Hormuz and the Malacca Strait. His visit to Srilanka, first for an Indian Prime Minister in 28 years has ushered a new phase in India-Srilanka relations. Ironically, Srilanka is just 27 miles from India but it took 28 years for a Prime Minister to visit Sri Lanka. Being Sri Lanka’s only neighbor, India should have sought to engage Sri Lanka more. But that was not be. In Sri Lanka, this snub was seen as the government’s attempt to appease the Tamil sentiments. Narendra Modi is there to make up for the last decade. Unfortunately in the same period China had made huge inroad. But all that is set to change now. China has already made huge inroads in our neighborhood. Seen in this context this visit of Narendra Modi becomes extremely important.

This visit becomes even more important in context of increasing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka.
Of late, China has been strengthening its relations with littoral states (Bordering the Indian Ocean) in the Indian Ocean Region, particularly Sri Lanka, as part of its “String of Pearls” diplomacy.  
Sri Lanka had initially offered the Hambantoota Port development project to India but India backed off and seizing the opportunity China stepped in. It would be regretted for long in the Indian Diplomatic circles. Last September, two Chinese (non-nuclear) submarines docked at a Sri Lankan, much to displeasure of India. Though it was said by the Chinese that it was just a usual stop but everyone knows that it was a cover up. Such projects, like the Gwadar project in Pakistan are often set up with military goals in mind.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.

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) then 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 the most 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 of 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 to 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 to 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 context of Chinese plans like Maritime Silk Route and its ‘development push’ in Indian Ocean region needs to act fast. 

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