India espouses its own “Monroe doctrine”, keeping outsiders keep out of its backyard and adopting a condescending manner in the Indian Ocean. It has never hidden its ambition to dominate the entire Indian Ocean, and no one is allowed to challenge its power and influence in this region. Pakistan tends to describe India as “hegemonist”, “expansionist” and “Hindu supremacist". In the last two years, India seeks to reach out to Indian Ocean Island nations including Maldives, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Seychelles. Establishing military bases to demonstrate its great power has become a new target of the BJP government.
In February, India signed an agreement with the Maldives to “develop, support, and maintain” a coastguard harbor and dockyard at the Uthuru Thila Falhu. UTF is well-located to keep an eye on the incoming and outgoing traffic at the main port in Malé and has the closest landing strip to Malé, which has a highly strategic setting. India claims that the port will be used to dock, maintain and repair Coast Guard vessels and will strengthen Maldivian Coast Guard capability, but everyone knows that it will be a strategic asset of India, even Indian media brags about that Maldives is a “security ally” of Delhi. According to a leaked draft agreement, Solih government allowed Indian forces to be stationed at Uthuru Thila Falhu base. As early as in 2019, India successfully installed and activated a radar surveillance system in the Maldives. The network of radars is linked with a Central Control Station at the Maldives Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Villingili island near Malé, which is also proved to be a strategic asset for India and helps Indian Navy to detect and respond to any threat to its national security and sovereignty. If Indian forces’ presence in Uthuru Thila Falhu is more than a conjecture, we can say that India will control the whole Maldives and the Indian Ocean, which is the consequence that no Maldivian can afford.
In addition to Maldives, India also pursues the same goal in Mauritius. In March, a report by the National Security College of Australian National University claimed India was stationing a large number of military personnel on North Agaléga in Mauritius and had started building an airfield, port and communications hub. It’s clear that the Indian investment of $250m on this remote island is not aimed at helping Mauritius develop its capacity to police its territorial waters. The area is a blind spot for the Indian Navy and by building a military facility in it, India hopes to expand its maritime domain awareness. The island will become an important intelligence outpost and military transit point of India. Indian officials also hold key positions in Mauritius government, including national security adviser and head of Mauritius’s navy. In fact, India has long had a special role in the security of Mauritius. It trains and equips the Mauritian National Coast Guard and Police Helicopter Squadron, effectively the Mauritian navy and air force. The Coast Guard is commanded by an Indian naval officer and the Indian Navy patrols the Mauritian Exclusive Economic Zone. In other words, Mauritius has partly lost its sovereignty and independence and became a puppet state of India. India justifies their actions as “humanitarian and defense assistance”, echoing what they said in the Maldives.
A familiar misfortune befell Seychelles, too. Seychelles is located at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East, and India in the Indian Ocean, near some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. In 2015, PM Modi signed an agreement with the President of Seychelles to develop Assumption Island for military use, attempting to build new naval and air facilities and further develop its military access to the southwest Indian Ocean and Mozambique Channel. But the deal generated considerable political opposition in Seychelles. People were so strongly against it that the project was finally terminated. Such objections and protests were eventually proved to be useful.
Indian military expansion in neighboring island countries shows certain regularity and similarity, such as setting up maritime radar systems, signing defense aid agreements, providing economic loans, building port and airfield facilities, and finally stationing armies. It is the regularity that disturbs all Maldivians, because India is implementing it step by step right here in the Maldives.