India-Mauritius: The strategic partnership gets off the ground!

Geopolitical intelligence, all-weather friends and awareness of complex inter-locking issues are vital as we navigate the headier waves of the world’s new

and emerging realities, strategies and power-games

The visit last week-end of the quietly distinguished Indian Minister of Defense, Manohar Parrikar, a close collaborator of PM Modi, could mark a turning point in the already flourishing relations between our two countries and nations. Officially here to commission the Indian-built CGS Victory and the two helicopters of our National Coast Guard, many observers locally and in the embassies of foreign capitals would have paid special heed to the overt and the underlying geo-political dimensions of the messages being conveyed through this mission.

For this visit attests not only to all the levels at which we bond with India and that it might be fastidious to enumerate for the knowledgeable Mauritius Times readership. Both sides are fully aware of the nurtured and rich tapestry of common heritage, sufferings and toils, where the cultural, the religious, the spiritual and the deeper historical and emotional ties blend. Both sides have also witnessed the vigorous expansion of our education, trade, business and economic ties since independence. We have on our side appreciated the continuous generous support provided to successive Mauritian governments in countless domains, even when the sub-continent had zillions of its own internal development demands and funding priorities to take care of. In short, as a nation, amongst all our regional and international array of traditional friends and allies, we have always regarded India Inc. as that special, strong and reliable all-weather partner.

We understood India’s political and administrative concerns over the potential back-door and re-routing abuse of the provisions of the DTA treaty by some astute tax-evading Indian businessmen. It was the enduring spirit of strategic cooperation that enabled us to ride out those forceful concerns for years, not least by intensifying cooperation with Indian tax authorities. Even during incoming BJP Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj state visit here in November 2014 and the ensuing visit of Indian PM Modi as Guest of Honour at our National Day celebrations in March 2015, our distinguished guests left no doubt that the same special spirit would guide amicable resolution of the DTA quandary when the Indian internal situation and the international context would ultimately make revision unavoidable.

Specialists have argued no end whether the DTA revision in July 2015 was the best achievable deal under difficult circumstances or whether a combination of factors mostly on the local front left us somewhat floundering in matters of geo-strategic importance to the country. Much of that commentary might be ascribed as rather speculative since few independent observers were party to the inner workings of the SAJ-led Lepep government and to high-level discussions that would have taken place between top-notch political leaders from either side. However, it was noted that while incoming BJP leader and PM Modi was bent on riding the now famous Modi-wave, taking India to new boundaries on the world scene in the passionate furtherance of its national and geo-strategic imperatives, we were here busy creating other waves to ride upon.

During his high-level visit in March 2015, PM Modi made very clear his intent to invite Mauritius and India to embark on a new strategic partnership which revolved around national and regional security cooperation. To walk the talk, PM Modi, preceded by Sushma Swaraj a few months earlier, didn’t come empty-handed.

The CGS Barracuda was the first Indian Navy vessel built and commissioned for a foreign country. Offers were made amongst others to provide more oceanic fast-patrol armed ships, to disenclave Agalega, to invest heavily into the upgrading of our port facilities including a petroleum and bunkering hub, to train our Police and National Coast Guard, to survey and patrol our immense Economic Zones for potential resources, to assist practically in any sphere we wished technical and financial assistance. From press reports, Modi promised that issues like DTA renegotiation would be looked at in that new strategic partnership spirit. In more concrete terms, a staggering 500 million US$ as grant and easy credit was generously offered while the re-utilisation of the 200 million US$ earmarked initially for the Light Rail project was agreed by India, taking promises of Indian investment assistance to unprecedented levels of Rs 25 billion or more. That was almost two years back.

The Indian political establishment may have been non-plussed that those opportunities for a mutually beneficial partnership at such scales, building on our past to stretch into future decades, fell on deaf ears as typhoons of our own making were rocking the island nation. In parallel, with a disarming mix of individual initiatives, our leaders preferred seemingly to seek better and “more flexible” terms elsewhere. China was offered an unprecedented port facility that would obviously be of strategic naval importance to Chinese grand designs in the Indian Ocean as a Tier-One super power. It was bound to unruffle all key Western capitals, most particularly the UK and US, while raising eyebrows in New Delhi. Untried and untested quantities like Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar or even Korea, amongst others, became the toast of the day in a variety of unexplained funding overtures. Most Mauritian observers and foreign embassies, kept a wary eye on the variety of uncoordinated initiatives that could prove profoundly unsettling in the new world-games being played out in the Indian Ocean.

A new level of understanding between our two capitals seems to have slowly matured today, epitomised by the visit of Defense Minister Parrikar, which has restored our privileged relationship, promising in its wake a major ground-shift at several levels. In a heavily charged schedule, his unexpected side briefing with the former PM Navin Ramgoolam could also be read as an unmistakable signal from India that national strategic interests should override local political expediencies and horizons.

If the outcomes will be a major source of satisfaction both in Port-Louis and in New Delhi, every caution has been taken to ensure that these hugely promising developments safeguard the independence of our national and sovereign interests over our Economic Zone in the Indian Ocean region. They are not incompatible with our strategic ties with other foreign capitals, including the UK, France, the US, China or Indian Ocean Rim states, If anything, the budding Indian strategic partnership could even be quietly useful in the Chagos sovereignty isssue with the US. Geopolitical intelligence, all-weather friends and awareness of complex inter-locking issues are vital as we navigate the headier waves of the world’s new and emerging realities, strategies and power-games.

U.C.

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