Indian Ocean Power Competition

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Integrating the island


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nothing much

Mains level: Rising importance of the Andaman Sea and the need to step up efforts in the region’s development


  • Recently PM modi visited Andaman Islands.

What did he do in Andaman ?

  1. PM Modi has recently renamed three islands in Andaman & Nicobar. The three islands — Ross Island, Neil Island and Havelock Island — will now be called Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island, Shaheed Dweep and Swaraj Dweep.
  2. He also hoisted a 150-feet-high national flag at Port Blair to mark the 75th anniversary of freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose’s declaration of the formation of the Azad Hind government in 1943.

Andaman has always been a neglected Island

  1. Prime Ministers of India rarely travel to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  2. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi visited in 1984 and 1986 respectively and Manmohan Singh went there in early 2005 to review the tsunami relief operations.
  3. For political Delhi, the island chain was at best a remote outpost acquired by default from the departing British Raj.
  4. That attitude filtered down the entire system of governance in Delhi. For India’s continentalist security establishment, weighed down by difficult land borders to the north and the west, the Indian Ocean is a distant domain.
  5. The nation’s island territories — the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the east and the Lakshadweep to the west — barely figure on Delhi’s mental map.

How will PM modi’s visit change the scenario?

  • Historical

Modi’s decision to time his visit with the 75th anniversary of Subhas Chandra Bose flying the tricolour in Port Blair has helped highlight the role of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India’s freedom struggle.

  • Geopolitical
  1. The story of Bose, Japan and the Azad Hind government underlines the enduring geopolitical significance of the Andaman Island chain and its waters.
  2. In the 17th and 18th centuries, they were the site of contestation between European colonial powers — Portugal, the Netherlands, France and Britain.
  3. Britain, which occupied the islands at the end of the 18th century in search of a permanent military base, put them on the back burner in the 19th.
  4. From a potential platform for power projection, the islands became a penal colony for the Raj. The challenge for Britain came this time from the first Asian great power in the modern age — Japan.
  5. The imperial Japanese forces raced through Malaya, ousted Britain from Singapore, Burma and the Andaman Islands.
  6. It took the combined efforts of the British Empire , the US and nationalist China to reverse Japanese aggression.
  7. After the Second World War, the partition of India and the Cold War between America and Russia, the Andamans became marginal to the new geopolitics.
  8. Today as a rising China projects its economic and military power into the Indian Ocean, any strategy for regional balance would necessarily involve the economic and military development of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  9. As in the Second World War, so in the current juncture, it would involve considerable cooperation between India and its major strategic partners.
  • Economic
  1. That in turn leads us to the third imperative — of ending the deliberate isolation of the island chain and promoting economic development, tighter integration with the mainland, strengthening military infrastructure, regional connectivity and international collaboration.
  2. The Modi government has initiated some important steps in that direction, including on internet connectivity, visa liberalisation, tourism, building new ports, agreements for cooperation with neighbouring countries in South East Asia.


Way Forward

  1. Any large-scale development would inevitably raise questions about preserving the pristine environment of the Andamans and protecting its vulnerable indigenous populations.
  2. As the NDA government seeks to accelerate economic development and enhance the military potential of the Andamans, there will be many challenges ahead. But none of them are unique to India.
  3. As it tries to turn the outpost in the Andamans into a strategic hub, Delhi can draw much from the wealth of international experience on the sustainable transformation of fragile island territories.
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