Today, oceans offer us resources worth 24 trillion US dollars. They comprise of traditional resources such as fisheries, transport, tourism and hydrocarbons as well as new non-traditional avenues such as deep-sea mining, renewable energy, ocean biotechnology and many more. A newly emerged concept of the blue business model received its due attention when the Pacific Small Island Developing States proposed the Blue Economy model at the Rio+20 conference in 2012. Later the concept gained prominence post the launch of Gunter Pauli’s book ‘The Blue Economy’. His book talks about an ultimate aim to shift the society from scarcity to abundance “with what is locally available” by tackling issues that cause environmental and related problems in new ways.

‘Blue economy’ is the integration of ocean economy development with values of social inclusion and environmental sustainability, along with dynamic and innovative business models. The concept of blue economy is not in competition with the green economy approach, as they are interdependent. Oceans are critical to sustaining Earth’s life support systems. Land-based resources are over-exploited, and we need to find new alternative ways to survive sustainably along with securing needs of future generations; hence, the notion of blue economy. 

Though a blue economy is focused on sustainable use of resources, India has attached multilateralism to it with emphasis on security of the region first. It is rather acquiescent that to utilize any resource, the foremost action is to protect and safeguard it from foreign intervention. The Indian Ocean region was an avoided deal for India and other South Asian countries in terms of security of the region and the vacuum was occupied by China. It is very recently that India has started to take an aggressive interest in the region to protect what it has, to safeguard its future and secure the surrounding regions. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has glued the concept of security with sustainable exploitation of resources, creating the new concept of ‘Blue Diplomacy’. Scholars claim that we have never had such clear and precise goals for Indian Ocean exercises before. The concept of Blue Economy has been recognised recently and India, being an important power in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), is now taking initiative to unite other powers, specifically island nations, of the region for a sustainable, cohesive and secure future.

The Indian Agenda and Potential Partners

“Whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters” these words of Alfred Mahan, the maritime strategist, signify the importance of the Indian Ocean – the third largest ocean in the world – and its resources, minerals and trade routes. 

PM Modi has chalked out an aggressive policy of maritime security and control over the Indian Ocean, and a vision for the government. Researchers and scholars have appreciated his plan. He initiated two actions simultaneously; one, handing over a warship, the Barracuda, to the Coast Guard of Mauritius declaring that the Indian Ocean littoral is at the very top of India’s foreign policy priorities; and two, delineating a five-fold policy framework, namely:

1. Delhi will do whatever may be necessary to secure India’s mainland and island territories and defend its maritime interests.

2. Deepening security cooperation with regional partners.

3. Building multilateral cooperative maritime security in the Indian Ocean.

4. Sustainable economic development.

5. Extending partnership with other major powers in the Indian Ocean.

India is also in a position to lend expertise in deep-sea bed activities, hydrographic surveys and weather predictions. India has a long record of hydrographic surveys of Seychelles and Mauritius. The launch of the coastal surveillance radar project, assurances for providing another Dornier aircraft, agreements on hydrographic survey and development of infrastructure on Assumption Island, and other development assistance shows the recent initiation of maritime politics with Seychelles. The port-led development along India’s coastline through the Sagarmala Port Development Project which will establish new ports and modernize old ones to link the coasts and island territories with the Indian hinterland is another step to be counted. PM Modi has further expressed his target to include more countries in the region as partners in the existing India-Maldives-Sri Lanka trilateral.

However, only a strong centrality of and solidarity for the Indian Ocean Rim Association can prevent any possibility of poaching by external powers. The recent development of BIMSTEC – The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation – is focused on building sea links and routes with neighbouring countries for increased trade. At this stage and under such circumstances, there is a need for India to partner with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries to counter Chinese aggression and expansion. These regions are of strategic importance where India can strengthen the ties. There is already a Free Trade Agreement between ASEAN and India and we also marked the 25th anniversary of our relationship with ASEAN in 2018.

Recently, we have also been taking increasing interest in the Tonga Island which is another strategic location in terms of security and resources (shown below in the map in red). Tonga and India have traditionally enjoyed a close relationship. India is an official dialogue partner of the  Pacific Islands Forum. Tonga is a strategically important country in the Pacific, rich in resources and instrumental in countering China’s expansion. With Tonga, India should expand its reach to other island nations of Melanesia, ensuring greater ties to compete with China.

The Indian Ocean is a viable link to the Pacific. Efforts should be made to strengthen the IORA and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, and to grab potential partner ASEAN. This is of utter importance if India wishes to counter the ‘Strings of Pearls’ concept more smartly.

China and Europe have already set a sophisticated framework to harness the energy. India, better late than never, must work hard and aggressively to establish its existence in the IOR. Though Mauritius and Seychelles are spearheading the exercise, India is ensuring that Pacific countries are not left out in the diplomacy. Regional power integration and joint exercises will help ensure cohesive development, making the slogan ‘Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas’ global. There is a need to support and strengthen other institutes and allocate them major business and security-related tasks for vehement progress, which is the need of the hour.

If the progress is uninterrupted, India’s vision of becoming a vital player and a leader in sustainable development in Asia will be a reality.

Sugandh Priya Ojha

Sugandh Priya Ojha is the co-founder of a political consultancy startup. She is also an IR professional and a polyglot with interest and experience in Political Analysis, Culture, International Security and Climate Governance.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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