A recent Al Jazeera expose has uncovered a secretive Indian attempt to set up a naval base in Mauritius. According to the investigative report, India has allocated vast sums of money since 2016 in order to establish a large airstrip and jetties that according to observers will be utilized by India as a base of military operations which is a part of its hegemonic designs to take over the Indian Ocean.
According to reports, the construction being carried out by India will lead to an intelligence facility with the capacity to stage air and naval presence in order to increase surveillance in the adjoining maritime region. India has been trying to set up a Coastal Surveillance Network encompassing countries as diverse as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Seychelles which would have severe repercussions for the local populations. This is just another step towards militarization of the Indian Ocean under the garb of SAGAR doctrine, Line of credit as well as exports of warships which ironically is a pretext that India has used to bash the Chinese economic Belt and Road Initiative. As Abishek Mishra of the Indian Think tank Observer’s Research Foundation said over secrecy of the project “From an Indian perspective, we cannot be seen as someone who is supporting militarization of our region. We do not want to be seen as someone who does not respect transparency or … sovereignty.”
It can be said that Mauritius’s sovereignty is being violated by Indians and it is the people of Mauritius who are the ultimate victims. The locals of Agalega Island, where India is building its base, have reported of Indian military personnel on ground in effect having taken over control of the island and are interfering in the daily life of the local population. The exposing of Indian designs for Agalega Island has raised fears among the local population that they will be expelled from their homes by the Indians. This is what happened to the unfortunate inhabitants of Diego Garcia where the US setup a naval base in the 1960s. Already some of Agalega’s inhabitants have told the media that they are not being allowed back in after having left for work on Mauritius’s other islands.
All of this would not have been possible without the connivance of the Mauritian government. An overwhelming part of the populace of Mauritius has linkages to India which has led to an over reliance on India for economic purposes over the years. A 2015 MoU between both states allowed India to pursue its designs in Agalega under the guise of developing “infrastructure”. However despite ample evidence to the contrary, the Mauritian government is still denying the evident Indian military designs for the island despite its negative fallout for the locals. These denials seem to be more rooted in Indian investment rather than reality.
Mauritius is just one country which is on the radar for this new type of colonialism being spread by India in the region but it is facing resistance as well as setbacks. In Maldives where a significantly pro-Indian government is in power, a local grassroots movement called “India Out” has emerged which is battling Indian military presence being staged in the island nation. Similarly, in 2015 India signed an agreement with the Seychelles President to develop Assumption Island for military use which led to significant political opposition in the Seychelles. India tried to weasel its way by signing a revised deal in 2018, but the recently elected Seychelles President WavelRamkalawan has ended the project over issues of sovereignty and the environment. These incidents explain Indian secrecy over its colonial ambitions in Mauritius.
Military bases isn’t the only way India tries to colonise other nations; another major method is state capture through economic means which are being pushed by unscrupulous Indian businesses often with Indian state backing. The most significant case is that of the Gupta brothers in South Africa. Economic migrants from the Indian state of Gujarat in 1993, they have become the seventh-wealthiest personalities in South Africa. Most of this wealth was attained through underhanded dealings with corrupt segments of the South African government. Their influence became so strong that they started using South African military bases for wedding events. This state capture would ultimately lead to South Africa’s descent into its current state of violent decline from its position as a star of the future emerging superpower club alongside China and Russia.
In the end, be it Indian military bases or state captures through underhanded business dealings both are a representation of colonialism being pushed through by the Indian State. Africa, which is rising from centuries of oppression at the hands of European colonial empires, is now again in the crosshairs of this new campaign of colonialism.
Jawad Falak is a Senior Research Fellow at Maritime Study Forum and tweets at @JawadFalak