Indian Ocean Power Competition

A new mould for Mauritius

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AU, IORA, IOC, Vanilla Islands

Mains level : Mauritius - India bilateral for Indian Ocean

Context

India prepares to host the prime minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth. He returned to power in the recent general elections. India needs to change the lens through which it sees the small island republic in the western Indian Ocean.

Historical sight

    • Diaspora – For too long, Delhi has viewed Mauritius through the prism of diaspora. This was natural since communities of Indian origin constitute a significant majority on the island.
    • Strategic angle – recently, Delhi has begun to see the strategic significance of Mauritius due to the great power contestation in the Indian Ocean.
    • SAGAR – during the visit of PM to Mauritius in 2015 SAGAR (security and growth for all) policy was unveiled. It was India’s first significant policy statement on the Indian Ocean.

Challenges in dealing Mauritius

    • Not an extension – the bigger challenge for Delhi in dealing with Mauritius is the urgent need to discard deep-rooted perception that Mauritius is an extension of India. 
    • Respecting identity – Mauritius is a sovereign entity with a unique national culture and an international identity of its own. 
    • Unique location – the island enjoys a special place in the Indian Ocean as a thriving economic hub and an attractive strategic location. 

Understanding Mauritius

    • Early European explorers sailed around the African continent and ventured eastwards to India.
    • They began to call Mauritius, the “Star, and Key of the Indian Ocean”
    • The Portuguese and the Dutch were the first to gain a foothold in Mauritius.
    • The French gained effective control over the island in the early 18th century.
    • The French developed sugar plantations introduced shipbuilding and developed a naval base.
    • A French soldier and colonial official, Félix Renouard de Sainte-Croix, described the island as “a central geographical point between every other place in the world’.
    • The British gained control during the Napoleonic wars and turned it into a garrison island to help secure the sea lines of communication between Europe and India. 
    • Diego Garcia, once part of Mauritius, today hosts one of America’s largest foreign military bases in the world.
    • The island is called a “central geographic point”. It is equally true for commerce and connectivity in the Indian Ocean.
    • It is a member of the African Union, Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Commission.

What India can do

    • Strategic partnership – could look beyond sugar plantations to financial services and technological innovation.
    • Investments – new investments pour into Africa and get serviced in Mauritius. Mauritius can be the fulcrum for India’s own African economic outreach.
    • Vanilla islands of the southwestern Indian Ocean were dealt on a bilateral basis. India could think of them as a collective and make Mauritius the pivot of Delhi’s island policy.
    • Indian commercial activities in the southwestern Indian ocean – can use Mauritius as a pivot. Eg., as a banking gateway, the hub for flights to and from Indian cities and tourism.
    • Technology – India could also contribute to the evolution of Mauritius as a regional center for technological innovation. Mauritius demanded higher education facilities from India like the IIT.
    • Climate Change – climate change, sustainable development, and the blue economy are existential challenges for Mauritius and the neighboring island states. It will be the right partner in promoting Indian initiatives.
    • Security – for an integrated view of security cooperation in the southwestern Indian Ocean, Mauritius is the node.

Conclusion

All this and more is possible if Delhi takes a fresh and more strategic look at Mauritius.


Back2Basics

Vanilla Islands – Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Reunion and Seychelles

African Union is a continental union consisting of 55 member states located on the continent of Africa.

Indian Ocean Rim Association is an international organization consisting of 22 coastal states bordering the Indian Ocean.

Indian Ocean Commission it is composed of five African Indian Ocean nations: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion, and Seychelles.

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