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[Sansad TV] Mudda Aapka: India–Mauritius Relations

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Context

  • Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth is on an eight-day visit to India.
  • The purpose of this visit is to further strengthen the relations between the two countries. Mauritius is becoming an integral part of the goals of India’s maritime diplomacy.
  • Mauritius is very important for India’s security from the point of view of the Indian Ocean and yet being highest FDI investor.

As Mauritius becomes a key part of India’s renewed Ocean Diplomacy at a time when the world is changing in fundamental ways, what should be India’s approach to this island-nation?

India-Mauritius Relations: A Backgrounder

  • Connections between India and Mauritius date back to 1730, diplomatic relations were established in 1948 before Mauritius became an independent state.
  • For far too long, Delhi has viewed Mauritius through the prism of diaspora. This was, perhaps, natural since 68% of the Mauritian population comprise of Indian origin.
  • More recently, Delhi has certainly begun to see the strategic significance of Mauritius thanks to the renewed great power contestation in the Indian Ocean.
  • In 2014, Prime Minister Modi saw Mauritius as part of India’s neighbourhood and invited its leaders to join his inauguration along with other South Asian leaders.
  • In 2015 that Modi unveiled an ambitious policy called the SAGAR (security and growth for all). It was India’s first significant policy statement on the Indian Ocean in many decades.

Significance of Mauritius to India

[A] Geostrategic significance

  • In 2015, the Indian Prime Minister signed an agreement to set up eight Indian-controlled coastal surveillance radar stations
  • Mauritius is part of India’s security grid including Coastal Surveillance Radar (CSR) station of Indian Navy’s National Command Control Communication Intelligence network.
  • The Head of Mauritius Navy and the Mauritian National Security Advisor are Indian officers.
  • India is also building a secret naval base in Agalega Islands of Mauritius.
  • If Delhi takes an integrated view of its security cooperation in the southwestern Indian Ocean, Mauritius is the natural node for it.

[B] Economic opportunities

  • The Mauritius pivot can facilitate a number of Indian commercial activities in the southwestern Indian Ocean — as a banking gateway, the hub for flights to and from Indian cities and tourism.
  • India could also contribute to the evolution of Mauritius as a regional centre for technological innovation.
  • Companies registered in Mauritius are the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) into India.
  • Mauritius and India signed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA) on 22 February 2021, during the visit of the External Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

[C] Geo-economics

  • India is Mauritius’s largest trading partner and has been the largest exporter of goods and services to the Indian Ocean island nation since 2007.
  • The French description of the island as a “central geographic point” holds equally true for commerce and connectivity in the Indian Ocean.
  • As a member of the African Union, Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Commission, Mauritius is a stepping stone to multiple geographies.
  • As new investments pour into Africa, Mauritius is where a lot of it gets serviced. Mauritius can be the fulcrum for India’s own African economic outreach.

[D] Mauritius as pivot of New Delhi’s island policy

  • Until now India has tended to deal with the so-called Vanilla islands of the southwestern Indian Ocean — Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mayotte, Reunion and Seychelles — on a bilateral basis.
  • If the Indian establishment thinks of them as a collective, it could make Mauritius the pivot of Delhi’s island policy.

[E] Indian Community

  • There are nearly 11,000 Indian nationals in Mauritius. There are around 750 OCI Card holders and about 3500 PIO Card holders.
  • To increase tourism inflow from India, Mauritian Government had introduced a visa-free regime for Indian tourists in October 2004.
  • Indian tourists visiting Mauritius for a period up to 60 days do not require a visa, provided they can show sufficient funds to cover their stay.
  • Mauritian nationals visiting India are entitled to gratis E-Tourist Visa.

[F] Institutional collaboration

  • The Mahatma Gandhi Institute (MGI) was established in 1976 as a joint venture between the Government of India and the Government of Mauritius for the promotion of Indian culture and education. It also hosts the ICCR Chair in Sanskrit and Indian Philosophy.
  • The Rabindranath Tagore Institute (RTI) was established with the assistance of the Government of India in 2000 as a Centre of Studies on Indian culture and traditions.
  • Mauritius also hosts the World Hindi Secretariat, an India-Mauritius bilateral organization which was inaugurated during the visit of President in March 2018.  

Common challenges

  • Some existential challenges for Mauritius and the neighbouring island states are:
  • Climate change
  • Sustainable development and
  • Blue economy
  • The impact of natural disasters, the degradation of coastal and marine ecosystems and sea level rise are their biggest security threats as these threaten their very existence.
  • According to a World Bank Report in 2018, Mauritius Ranks 16th highest disaster risk country, being highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

Why India needs to revamp its neighbourhood strategy?

  • Responsiveness against China: India has often been accused of being self-centred in its relations with its smaller neighbours, as well as being interested in them only when China becomes a big enough presence in these countries. This is not an unfair criticism.
  • IOR Strategy: As the power dynamic in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is changing, India has come to view Mauritius as an integral part of the new security architecture that it would like to see emerge here.
  • Security-centric: Mauritius is dotted with naval outfits, communication and surveillance outposts, and/or port facilities/developments, from Tanzania, Kenya, to Oman, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
  • Multiple identities: Mauritius, much like India, sees itself in many dimensions. It sees itself as a sovereign nation, as a vibrant democracy; as multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation too. It is important for India in its approach towards Mauritius to embrace its multitude of identities.

Way forward

  • The urgent need for New Delhi is to discard the deep-rooted perception that Mauritius is simply an extension of India.
  • Delhi must take a fresh and more strategic look at Mauritius.
  • One way of getting there is to have an early Indian summit with the leaders of the Vanilla Islands.
  • India, with its strong intelligence network, will also be helpful in maritime law enforcement by Mauritius and Seychelles.
  • While declaring support for India’s maritime security plans, there is need to pointed out that small nations are equally important in the contemporary world order and need to be taken seriously for the sake of preserving the security and order.

Conclusion

  • Our close multifaceted relations have steadily developed over the years, based on the secure foundations of kinship and family ties, and of shared values of democracy, tolerance, peace and development.
  • It is time that both nations take it forward with mutual cooperation.
  • Jugnauth’s visit is a good moment for India to visibly demonstrate its respect for the sovereignty of Mauritius.
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