An archipelago of 115 islands off the coast of East Africa, Seychelles virtually disappears when the world map is zoomed out. However, its strategic significance for India’s diplomatic endeavors in the Indian Ocean maritime space is only set to increase, especially against the backdrop of China’s increasing forays in the pristine islands.
In this context, the recent visit of India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar to Seychelles on October 10 was significant to allay some of the concerns raised by the Seychelles government over the agreement on India’s build-up of military infrastructure on Assumption Island.
Why Seychelles matters?
In 2015, India secured the lease to build its first naval base on Assumption Island. It lies to the north of the island of Madagascar where India has a listening post for monitoring the activities of foreign navies operating in the region. With the Seychelles Coast Guard and the Seychelles People’s Defence Forces (SPDF) as partners, India will get considerable edge in advancing its vision of a stable and prosperous Indian Ocean, home to some of the busiest sea lanes.
Yet there have been reports floating around that suggest that there are forces within the Seychelles government who are trying to hinder India’s infrastructural ambitions in these islands. In his last press conference in August, Seychelles’ President Danny Faure had said: “We would like to relook at the agreement which does not have a legal statute on the Seychelles side. But for India, it has a legal statute. We have to go back to the drawing board.”
The reason for that could be attributed to the growing intimacy with China, whose ambitions the Indian Ocean region (the latest being the establishment of a naval base in Djibouti) is viewed with concern in India’s diplomatic and defence circles. Talks for expanding defence partnership between the Chinese and Seychelles governments are already underway. China’s investment and commercial activities in the islands, along with its plans of developing friendly ports in the region, have led to a geopolitical churn in the Indian Ocean and India is determined to balance the dragon’s growing hold over the security architecture in the region.
“The whole idea of my visit is to understand the current concerns and priorities of the Seychelles so that India can work abreast with that,” Mr. Jaishankar said.
India’s assistance to Seychelles
Two petrol vessels – the Tarmugli (2006) and the Tarasa (2014) – were gifted by India to the Seychelles government in order to bolster the counter-piracy operations. Indian defence institutes provide valuable training to officers of the SPDF and so far India has provided a Dornier aircraft, two Chetek helicopters (1981 vintage) and a fast attack craft to Seychelles. Mr. Modi handed over the second Dornier aircraft during his visit to the islands in 2015. With the rights to set up another base in Agalega, two outer island of Mauritius, India is aiming for a trilateral regional security forum comprising Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives.
With the Indian diaspora forming a substantial 8 percent of the population and a booming Indian business and tourism scene, Seychelles enjoys a prominent place in India’s overseas affairs in the Indian Ocean region. The recent success of the three-city roadshow in organized by the Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) office in India promises to boost the tourism industry of Seychelles that forms a major part of it economy. With its captivating beeches and outstanding natural sites listed under the UNESCO World Heritage list, Seychelles receives about 2,80,00 tourists per year. Beyond defence collaboration, India’s cultural connect is crucial in advancing the objectives of its Indian Ocean strategy.
(Pritha Matanti contributed inputs for this article)
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