THE unique geostrategic position that India has in the India Ocean region gives it some wonderful natural advantages. Despite the geographical advantages, its size and its track record, India is still lacking in several areas. Recent times have, however, witnessed a strategic shift in India’s Indian Ocean Policy with larger engagement with countries sharing the vast shores.
It was an imperative that Indian diplomatic channels needed to implement in the right earnest with incremental as well as tending measures. That India is on course to align itself with the pivotal shift in the region’s importance vis-à-vis emerging interests from the United States and China is evident from the assertions from National Security Advisor Mr. Ajit Doval, who has sought mutual cooperation from Indian Ocean countries with an idea of growing together. Mr. Doval’s address to the top brass of Navies from countries which are part of the Indian Ocean, at the Goa Maritime Conclave, centred around the thought of wellness in togetherness. He was forthright in spelling out India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy which calls for a cohesive growth rather than being against any country.
This belief has formed Indian diplomacy’s engagements in other countries be it infrastructure development, cultural exchanges, economic collaborations, or maritime assistance. The strategic shift in the Indian Ocean is on the same lines where smaller nations are being approached with a healing touch. India’s progress in developing technology and bringing in newer enterprises in sectors like disaster management, preparedness for cyclone, and Naval operations can be helpful to all the neighbours and countries in South Asian and Pacific regions. Mr. Doval’s offer of sharing expertise is part of the cooperation measures India wants in the region with total focus on larger human good. It is also a strategic necessity in view of keeping the flock together in wake of imperialist ambitions of some forces, especially China.
The presence of Chinese ships in the Indian Ocean a few days ago is a case in point. Indian Ocean is an important maritime domain of Asian geopolitics. It is also the most vital maritime energy and supply line for India and the neighbourhood. It is Indian Navy’s primary responsibility, rather a prerogative, to ensure security of this link. With enhanced cooperation from the countries inhabiting the shores of India Ocean in maritime and data sharing, India would be better equipped to safeguard the region.
Hence, the outreach to the Indian Ocean countries with totally non-reciprocal approach -- a hallmark of Indian diplomacy. Changing geopolitical equations in Asia and growing competition among extra-regional and resident powers have formed the contours of India’s enhanced strategy towards Indian Ocean. The NSA reaching out to the top officials of foreign Navies is in tune with the renewed Indian Ocean Region Policy kicked off in the first term of the Modi Government. It has got a new vigour in the second term with the Prime Minister attaching prime importance to neighbours including Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, African nations, and Pacific Islands. Apart from the Quad formed by US, Australia, Japan, and India in the Indo-Pacific region, New Delhi is also awake to the importance of consolidation of its own gains in the Indian Ocean.