Seychelles’ reported decision to cancel the agreement with India to jointly develop a naval base on the Assumption Island adds to a long list of New Delhi’s setbacks in the Indian Ocean region (IOR) amidst Beijing’s growing economic and strategic footprints. But India is not showing any complacency. Determined to safeguard India’s strategic interests in the IOR, the Narendra Modi government is proactively reaching out to visiting Seychelles president Danny Faure, who will be hosted for five days across four Indian cities – New Delhi, Ahmedabad, Panaji and Dehradun.
Located northeast of Madagascar and southwest of the Maldives, Seychelles is an archipelago in the IOR. Diplomatic ties between New Delhi and Victoria have existed since Seychelles gained independence in 1976. Since then, India has continued to enjoy a multi-faced relationship with Seychelles.
With India’s consistent support, Seychelles has been able to build its own defence forces. Recently, two patrol boats, one interceptor and one Dornier Do-228 aircraft were provided to Seychelles’ Coast Guard by India to carry out its surveillance and anti-piracy missions. Indian naval ships regularly visit Seychelles as part of their anti-piracy deployment. Moreover, Prime Minister Modi visited Seychelles in March 2015 to launch the first of a planned constellation of 32 coastal surveillance radars, which provide the Indian Navy with enhanced maritime domain awareness.
Let’s discuss the importance of the Assumption Island deal, which was originally signed during Modi’s 2015 Seychelles visit. India’s primary objective for setting up a joint naval facility in Assumption is to ensure the safe passage of shipping vessels and containers in the southern IOR. Another important objective is to allow Indian Navy to monitor the Mozambique Channel and thwart any piracy attempts since much international trade transits through this region. Most importantly, the facility can potentially counter China’s increasing presence and securitisation of the IOR. The 2015 agreement was also supposed to help Seychelles patrol its 500,000-square-miles exclusive economic zone for illegal fishing, drug trafficking and piracy, and its ratification would have made India’s relationship with Seychelles truly strategic.