India has never really taken its attention off from the South and South-West Indian Ocean (SSWIO) region, even though China is increasing its footprint in the region.
While India is uncomfortable with the Chinese presence here, there is no cause yet for alarm bells to ring.
Moreover, India shares close historical and non-threatening security ties with countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Seychelles is a step in this direction to increase people-to-people connectivity and security linkages with the island nation.
Former Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Seychelles in 2007, and the last time that an Indian Prime Minister was here on an official visit was in 1981.
Seychelles had offered China its harbor for refueling and docking of Chinese warships stationed in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy operations.
Quite naturally, India was alarmed with the development, though Beijing tried to assuage Indian fears that it was not looking at Seychelles as a military base, but only as a pit stop for refueling purposes.
India has got cracking into setting up its eyes and ears in the Indian Ocean. Military coastal radar stations are to be set in several countries in the Indian Ocean Region with active participation with partner countries.
It would enable these countries to combat piracy while helping India keep a track of suspicious Chinese moves too.
Prime Minister Modi will inaugurate one such station in Mahe on Tuesday.
India has often come to the assistance of Seychelles in battling piracy, something that threatens many countries in this region. India has given Dornier Do 228s and Chetak helicopters. India also provides military training and capacity building to Seychelles in fighting piracy. India has worked to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) and Search and Rescue capacity building in Seychelles.India has traditionally been the main defense provider for Seychelles – providing armaments and training to its Seychelles Peoples’ Defense Forces.
In 2014, India had gifted a naval ship INS Tarasa to Seychelles to augment surveillance and patrolling capacity of Seychelles waters that covers an EEZ of over 1.3 square kilometers. The ship was rechristened PS Constant upon induction into the fleet of the Seychelles Coast Guard. It is the second Indian naval ship to be gifted to Seychelles after PS Topaz in 2006.
Three Indian Naval Ships — INS Deepak, INS Mumbai and INS Talwar have made port calls in Victoria from the 6th of November to the 9th of November 2014.
The two sides also have a military cooperation agreement, whereby, India has trained Seychelles People’s military personnel in combat operations.
President James Michael during his visit to India in 2010 acknowledged India’s help to his country, saying, “India was the first country which came to Seychelles’ assistance in the fight against piracy. We greatly appreciate the continued support of the government and people of India. India is our ideal partner. We need to build bridges to connect our countries and bring our people together.”
The newly constituted High Level Joint Defence Coordination Committee sets the agenda for bilateral defence and security cooperation between Seychelles and India.
ITEC deputationists, including a Military Adviser, Maritime Security Advisor, Medical Advisor and Naval Technical Advisor have been deployed with the SPDF.
Though India along with Russia and China is not part of the 25-nation combined Task Force 15 (CTF-150) battling piracy out of Bahrain, its ships and boats have patrolled the region.
The sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean are vast and are rich targets for pirates who have made this region the most lucrative area for activities.
There are many politically weak and economically vulnerable states that are unable to contribute in international efforts to combat pirates.
The pirates of today are well armed, have sophisticated weapons and smoothly transfer ransom amounts in international bank accounts.
Seychelles along with Mauritius and Maldives finds in India a non-threatening stable ally in combating piracy and developing a maritime security arrangement.
Though Seychelles is 2,800 kilometers from the western coast of India, closer to Africa, yet it is more in sync with India sharing close military, cultural and social ties.