Skip to main content

Modi’s Sagar Mala

As he swings across the Indian Ocean this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s biggest challenge is not about countering China. After all, Beijing is far away and Indiais right in the middle of the Indian Ocean. In the near term, the tyranny of geographywill limit the scope and intensity of Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. Modi’s real problem is in Delhi, afflicted by a condition called continentalism, which has proved rather difficult to overcome.

Continentalism, marked by an obsession with land frontiers and a sea blindness, has deep roots in Delhi’s political history. A number of factors made independent Indiaeven more vulnerable to the affliction. Partition created new boundaries within the subcontinent and turned Delhi’s political energies inward. The emergence of a strong China to the north and the contestation with it along the Indo-Tibetan border has long drained most of India’s strategic attention.
Despite a massive coastline and geographic primacy in the Indian Ocean, India had little time for its vast maritime frontiers. Its continentalist mindset was reinforced by Delhi’s inward economic orientation in the 1950s. If India’s economic footprint spreadall across the Indian Ocean under the British Raj, it steadily diminished thanks to the policies of self-reliance and import substitution in the first decades after Independence.
In the realm of security, Delhi’s focus was on turning the Indian Ocean into a “zone of peace”, whatever that meant. As Great Britain chose to withdraw from the east of Suez in the late 1960s after two centuries of dominating the Indian Ocean, Delhi believed the UN would help replace British primacy with a system of collective security. While many littoral countries sought a major Indian security role, Delhi was a reluctant partner and declared quite cheerily that talk of a power vacuum was outdated in a post-colonial world.
Delhi’s approach began to change in the 1990s. As India embarked on globalisation and trade, economic connectivity with the Indian Ocean littoral began to come back on Delhi’s agenda. India also inched away from the military isolationism of the non-aligned era. After decades of hectoring the great powers to get out of the Indian Ocean,Delhi began to engage all of them, including the United States. At the multilateral level, it started to de-emphasise the UN and focused on regional institutions. Over the last few years, Delhi has sought to revive the moribundIndian Ocean Rim Association, set up in the late 1990s to promote regional cooperation.
Delhi has expanded bilateral and multilateral naval exercises with many of its neighbours in the Indian Ocean. It launched the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, which brings together the chiefs of the navies every two years to discuss naval cooperation.India has also set up a joint mechanism with Sri Lanka and the Maldives for shared maritime domain awareness. The Indian navy has also focused on maritime capacity building, especially in the island states that occupy critical locations in the IndianOcean.
The problem for Modi is that the change in Delhi’s Indian Ocean policy has been too limited and incremental to cope with the maritime challenges staring at India. Delhihas not been good at tying different, new policy strands into a coherent strategy for theIndian Ocean. Worse still, its political leadership has not had the will or energy to shake the bureaucratic establishment of its continentalist mindset.
To realise India’s full strategic potential in the Indian Ocean, Modi will need to focus on three things. One is to boost India’s own civilian maritime infrastructure, which has become terribly creaky and utterly inadequate for a country so dependent on the seas for its economic life.
Second, India needs to ramp up its capabilities to take up major maritime projects in other countries. China has stolen a march over India in this area simply because Delhihad gone to sleep. Beijing’s projects in the neighbourhood have given India a wake-upcall, but Delhi does not have the capacity or a policy framework to bid for and execute major infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean littoral.
Third, India needs to lend some vigour to its defence diplomacy in the region. AlthoughDelhi talks the talk on being a “net security provider”, the ministry of defence is not ready to walk the walk. The MoD is a long way from developing the capabilities, systems and attitudes to make India a productive security partner for the countries of the region.
Finally, Delhi is aware of the need for a big idea to frame the government’s plans for amore purposeful maritime engagement in the Indian Ocean. Some have toyed with “Project Mausam” to promote India’s soft power in the littoral. Others have proposed the idea of a “spice route” to capture India’s interest in restoring its historic linkages in the littoral. The prime minister might want to settle on a simple idea that is already a part of Delhi’s lexicon — the “Sagar Mala”. The concept was first unveiled by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003, with the objective of rapid modernisation and expansion of India’s maritime sector. Modi has sought to revitalise that idea. It can easily be extended to promote India’s connectivity in the Indian Ocean, in both economic and security domains.
Whatever we may call it, the first step is to get Delhi’s internal act on the Indian Ocean together. China’s Silk Road initiatives, for example, did not emerge from some clever foreign policy strategy; they are an extension of Beijing’s domestic initiatives on infrastructure development.
The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi, and a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’.

Popular posts from this blog

Cloud seeding

Demonstrating the function of the flare rack that carries silver iodide for cloud-seeding through an aircraft. 
Water is essential for life on the earth. Precipitation from the skies is the only source for it. India and the rest of Asia are dependent on the monsoons for rains. While the South West Monsoon is the main source for India as a whole, Tamil Nadu and coastal areas of South Andhra Pradesh get the benefit of the North East Monsoon, which is just a less dependable beat on the reversal of the South West Monsoon winds.

SC asks Centre to strike a balance on Rohingya issue (.hindu)

Supreme Court orally indicates that the government should not deport Rohingya “now” as the Centre prevails over it to not record any such views in its formal order, citing “international ramifications”.

The Supreme Court on Friday came close to ordering the government not to deport the Rohingya.

It finally settled on merely observing that a balance should be struck between humanitarian concern for the community and the country's national security and economic interests.

The court was hearing a bunch of petitions, one filed by persons within the Rohingya community, against a proposed move to deport over 40,000 Rohingya refugees. A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, began by orally indicating that the government should not deport Rohingya “now”, but the government prevailed on the court to not pass any formal order, citing “international ramifications”. With this, the status quo continues even though the court gave the community liberty to approach it in …

Indian Polity Elections (MCQ )

1. Who of the following has the responsibility of the registration of voters
a) Individual voters
b) Government
c) Election commission
d) Corporations


2. Democracy exists in India, without peoples participation and co operation democracy will fail. This implies that
a) Government should compel people to participate and cooperate with it
b) People from the government
c) People should participate and cooperate with the government
d) India should opt for the presidential system


3. Which of the following are not the functions of the election commission
1) Conduct of election for the post of the speaker and the deputy speaker, Lok sabha and the deputy chairman, Rajya sabha
2) Conduct of elections to the state legislative assemblies
3) Deciding on all doubts and disputes arising out of elections

a) 1 and 2
b) 1 and 3
c) 2 and 3
d) 2

4. Which of the following electoral systems have not been adopted for various elections in India
1) System of direct elections on the basis of adult suffrage
2…