By Sanjeeb Baruah
As part of an initiative codenamed “Mission Sagar,” India is sending emergency medical and food aid to the eastern Indian Ocean countries battling COVID-19 and dengue fever. Two medical teams, along with tonnes of relief materials onboard the Indian Navy’s INS Kesari, are on their way to Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles, and the Maldives, where the crew will assist the respective governments in dealing with the crisis. The mission is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Sagar Doctrine, a strategic vision that stresses security and growth for all in the neighborhood. Mr Modi had unveiled the concept during his tour of the region in March 2015, about a year after his historic election victory.
The medical teams will be deployed in Mauritius and Comoros that are combating dengue fever in addition to the coronavirus emergency. The ship, which departed on May 10, will deliver COVID-19 related medicines to Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros, and Seychelles, and around 600 tonnes of food items to the Maldives. A special consignment of Ayurvedic medicines is also being sent to Mauritius, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement on May 11. India had last month also sent consignments of Hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol tables as well as medical support to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Seychelles.
The Modi 2.0 government has made the Sagar Doctrine a foreign policy priority in line with its broader Act East framework, which seeks to reach out to India’s eastern neighbors and consolidate the gains made during its first tenure. The policy complements the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Trade and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), another platform with similar goals.
PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony for his second term in May 2019 was attended by the heads of state of all the BIMSTEC nations, which underscores the importance they accord to India and vice-versa. BIMSTEC is also significant as it builds on the strengths of the SAARC initiative but seeks to move beyond some of the hurdles it presented. In this context, most of the SAARC members are also in BIMSTEC, with the only exception is Pakistan and Afghanistan. India has, meanwhile, opened up many bilateral initiatives for close engagement with Kabul.
Underlining India’s sincerity in building close ties with the nations of the eastern Indian Ocean region, PM Modi had embarked on a tour to Mauritius, the Maldives, and Seychelles soon after forming the government in 2014. India had also extended USD200 million budgetary support to the Maldives, which has been struggling to pay off the Chinese loans borrowed by its previous government.
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