The Narendra Modi government has made a deliberate push to improve India’s maritime policy to the west by improving naval relations with countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain. On April 24, 2016, India confirmed that it would send a flotilla of warships to the Persian Gulf to add military heft and improve naval relations with some of the Indian Ocean countries. Since that promise, INS Delhi, Tarkash and Deepak have anchored in Dubai to bolster naval relations between India and UAE. Importantly, both countries are expected to perform a joint naval exercise in the region, sending strong regional signals. The three warships continued their goodwill visit in Bahrain and Kuwait, expanding the scope of India’s maritime cooperation with Gulf countries in combating piracy and maritime terrorism.
These diplomatic feelers on either side of peninsular India had an appropriate prelude in Modi’s earlier landmark visits to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka, besides his numerous other oceanic overtures in the Indian Ocean. Modi has also led India’s leasing out of Assumption Island from Seychelles, marking a historic shift in India’s expansive reconnaissance and surveillance designs in the Indian Ocean. India’s enhanced maritime focus on either side of its peninsular landmass has also been supplemented by a quest for dominance through competition with China, towards the south.
India recently has sought to boost maritime cooperation with the Maldives, too. In April of this year, India deployed its Advanced Light Helicopter MK III at Kadhdhoo Island in the Maldives in a bid to assist that country in search and rescue, casualty evacuation, coastal surveillance, maritime reconnaissance, communication and logistic duties. While Mauritius has been caught in intense maritime cooperation between India and China, most speculations have rendered Seychelles finally falling in India’s geostrategic corner. More importantly, India has pushed for the spirit of south-south cooperation in the southern Indian Ocean, most notably through its recent maritime cooperation, along with Brazil and South Africa, called IBSAMAR.
India’s latest bid to change its maritime character has involved engaging with a host of countries to its east as well as to its west, marking India’s new bidirectional strategic maritime loops. While its western maritime loop has included the Gulf countries like Kuwait, Bahrain, Iran and Saudi Arabia, its eastern maritime loop intends to tie the ports of Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, Subic Bay in the Philippines, Sasebo in Japan, Busan in South Korea, Vladivostok in Russia and Port Klang in Malaysia.
India’s push at bettering naval relations with the countries in Southeast Asia, the Gulf countries and countries to its south is part of a larger maritime agenda, to form as well as lead a new institutionalized response in the region that is largely led by the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium—a body which has served as a forum for sharing information and cooperating on maritime issues in the region, but more importantly, which aspires to turn around India’s regional maritime purpose.
Vivek Mishra is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University and is finishing his PhD on "American Maritime Strategy on the Indian Ocean in the post Cold War era, 1990-2012" from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Indian Navy.