Commentary: India, Hopeful to Expand its Influence in the Indo-Pacific, Signs Pact with Seychelles

The Republic of Seychelles is an archipelago which lies in the Indian Ocean. The country has 115 islands with Victoria as its capital. Some of the nearby islands and territories to Seychelles are Mauritius, Reunion, Madagascar, Comoros, etc. The country with a population of around 96,000 has the smallest population of any African nations. Seychelles gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1976 and is presently, member of the United Nations, the South African Development Community, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the African Union.

India- Seychelles Relations at a Glance

India’s diplomatic ties with Seychelles were established after its independence in 1976, but their relation date back even earlier. The first resident Indian Mission to Seychelles was opened in Victoria in 1987, but before this in 1979, an Indian mission was established with the High Commissioner based in Dar-es-Salaam which was simultaneously accredited to Seychelles. In the year 2008, Seychelles opened its resident mission in New Delhi, India.

Presently, the trade figures between the two countries are quite modest, where Seychelles’ import from India mainly comprises of rice, food products, cement, linen, cotton, vehicles, medicines, instruments and appliances for medical, surgical and dental use; while commodities exported to India are nuts, fresh or dried, ferrous waste and scrap. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visited Seychelles in the year 2015 and signed four agreements with the country which are as follows:

• Memorandum of Understanding on Renewable Energy Cooperation;
• Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation in the Field of Hydrography;
• Protocol on Sale of Navigational Charts / Electronic Navigational Charts; and,
• Agreement on the Development of Facilities on Assumption Island.

After the PM’s visit the Seychelles, President James Alix Michel’s visited India in 2015, which was followed by signing of five agreements with respect to:
• Bilateral air service agreement;
• Memorandum of Understanding relating to agriculture research and education;
• Cooperation in field of blue economy;
• Tax information exchange; and,
• Memorandum of Understanding for the supply of a Dornier aircraft.

The relation between India and Seychelles has always been significant. In 2015, Shri Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship was sent to Seychelles with personal letters of invitation of Prime Minister Modi to the President and Foreign Minister of Seychelles for the third India Africa Forum Summit which was held in New Delhi. Of recent, the Seychelles Minister of Finance, Trade and Economic Planning led a delegation to India to attend the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the African Development Bank Group held in Ahmedabad.

Enhancing India-Seychelles Ties

On 27th January, 2018, India and Seychelles signed an agreement of twenty years which would enable India to develop, manage, operate and maintain facilities on the Assumption Islands by constructing military infrastructure - situated 1,140 km southwest of the Seychelles archipelago. This agreement was signed for the second time after altering the previous one, with a focus to tackle the challenges of maritime security. The first agreement between the two countries were signed on the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Seychelles in the year 2015. The recent agreement was again signed between the Former Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and the Seychelles Secretary of State, Barry Faure.

(Source:http://www.seychellesnewsagency.com/articles/8595/Seychelles%2C+India+sign+new+version+of+Assumption+Island+military+deal)

In the altered agreement, main emphasis was to provide a structure for assistance to enhance the military ability and potential in administering the maritime surveillance of Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is approximately 1.3 million square km. Mr. Jaishankar mentioned that India and Seychelles, being maritime neighbours, have stake in each other’s security. Henceforth, both cooperate jointly in anti-piracy operations, enhanced surveillance and monitoring to prevent intrusions by potential economic offenders. He also mentioned that there are people engaged in illegal fishing, poaching, drug and human trafficking. Thus, the pact is seen as big step in extending the reach of India’s navy, which is expected to rotate its naval assets and aircraft through the islands. On the other hand, the Chief of Staff of the Seychelles people’s Defense Forces mentioned that, “the facility on Assumption will also have modern equipment to enable coast guard to have its vessels and air force plane on the island”.

The agreement, for its ratification, will be placed in the Cabinet and then the National Assembly of Seychelles. Only after getting the consent, further development on construction of the base would take place. The project is wholly financed by the Indian government but Seychelles has full ownership over the base, with power to suspend functioning and utilization of military nature during epidemic or if India is at war, because this is not a military base. Also, the Indian government will be able to gain access to the facility but the base will not be used to transport or keep nuclear arms.

Conclusion

There are around ten thousand people of Indian origin in Seychelles. The Indian nationals were the earliest inhabitants of the country who mainly hail from Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. Initially, they came as traders, labourers and construction workers, but these days they are also coming as professionals. The recent agreement signed between the two countries has not only strengthened the relationship but has also taken the bonding at a pronounced level. It will further help India to develop an aircraft landing strip and a landing stage at for boats on the Assumption Island. Availability of such facilities in Seychelles and the Agalega Island of Mauritius would expand India’s outreach to western Indian Ocean.

(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)


Image Source: http://media2.intoday.in/indiatoday/images/stories/2015March/nuclear_1_0...

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