By- Manish Chand
Think of Seychelles, and India always looms large in this enchanting archipelago country better known for beauty pageants, honeymooners and luxury holidays. Trade, Training, Technology, Temples and yes, Tata buses and tortoises… These are multiple strands that form the exquisite mosaic of contemporary relations between India and Seychelles, the 115-island archipelago country of haunting beauty. Fittingly, Seychelles forms the first destination of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-nation voyage (March 10-14) to littoral states of the Indian Ocean, which also includes Mauritius and Sri Lanka. It’s an epic diplomatic odyssey as this is the first time an Indian prime minister will be travelling to three littoral countries and underlines the growing salience of the Indian Ocean in India’s diplomatic-strategic matrix and calculations. Prime Minister’s Modi trip will underscore Seychelles’ unique place in this configuration.
There have been many presidential visits from India to this African littoral nation, the last one being President Pratibha Patil’s trip to Seychelles in 2012, but this will be the first prime ministerial visit to this strategically located country after a gap of more than three decades. Mrs Indira Gandhi was the last Indian Prime Minister to visit Victoria in 1981.
(Smt. Indira Gandhi visited Seychelles in 1981 )Strategy and Defence
Bolstering defence and maritime security cooperation will be high on the agenda. Given the proliferation of pirates in the region, India has been proactive in strengthening the capacity of the Seychelles Peoples’ Defence Forces (SPDF). India has donated military vehicles and surveillance equipment to the SPDF. In 2014, India gifted a naval ship, INS Tarasa, to Seychelles to augment surveillance and patrolling capacity of Seychelles waters that encompasses an extensive Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of over 1.3 million sq. kms. The ship was renamed "PS Constant” upon induction into the fleet of Seychelles Coast Guard. This is the second Indian naval ship to be gifted to Seychelles after PS Topaz in 2006. Senior officers of SPDF have trained in India’s military academies and have gone on to occupy key positions in the military establishment of their country. In 2013, India presented a Dornier-228 maritime reconnaissance aircraft to Seychelles to shield its EEZ against terrorism and piracy.
(The then President Smt. Pratibha Patil with President James Michel of Seychelles during her visit to Seychelles in April, 2012)Development Partners
Moving beyond defence, it’s in the areas of development and capacity building that the India-Seychelles partnership shines forth. In 2012, India had pledged US$ 50 million as Line of Credit and US$ 25 million as a grant to the Government of Seychelles. India’s flagship ITEC programme has acted as a bridge builder and has benefited nearly a 1000 Seychellois by providing them training in the civilian, defence and other fields. Besides extending Lines of Credit and training, India has been involved with a host of projects in the island country, including the IT Centre for Excellence. Victoria Hospital in Seychelles is linked with major hospitals in India under the Pan-African satellite tele-medicine system. New initiatives launched by India include assistance in setting up solar farms and training of Seychelles’ police personnel. This all-embracing developmental assistance has been well appreciated by the people of Seychelles. "India has been our faithful friend and partner since the independence of Seychelles. We share the same ocean and close cultural heritage. India has helped us in our development, in education, health, manpower training, and security matters,” says Seychelles President James Alix Michel. In a gesture celebrating friendship between the two nations, the president had gifted two giant Aldabra tortoises to the Alipore Zoo in Kolkata in October 2014.
(India gifted Dornier maritime patrol aircraft to Seychelles in 2013. The Dornier has been fitted with state-of-the-art avionics and radar equipment. It is the lynchpin of Seychelles Air Force maritime capability)Business Bonding
In the area of business, a host of Indian companies are keeping the flag of Indian enterprise flying high. Bank of Baroda has been active in the country since 1978. Polaris Software Lab of India has helped develop the banking services in Seychelles.
TATA has become a household name, with its buses plying to other regions of Mahé Island. Ashok Leyland’s state-of-the-art buses and Bharti Airtel’s launch of 4G mobile network are unfolding stories of Indian corporate’s success in the island country.
Culturally, the Indian diaspora, which comprises 8 per cent of the island nation’s population, remains the flag-bearer of Indian traditions and values. Persons of Indian Origin have been among the earliest inhabitants of this island nation, mostly from Tamil Nadu and later on from Gujarat. They came as traders, labour and construction workers and more recently as professionals and entrepreneurs. Lord Navasakthi Vinayagar Temple in Victoria forms the nucleus of Indians’ religious life in the country. Be it Holi, Diwali or Dusshera, you can always bank on the people of Seychelles to have a good time and celebrate the enduring bonds with India.
The Way Ahead
Amid the unfolding great maritime game in the Indian Ocean, the importance of Seychelles to India’s strategic calculus can’t be overstated. Situated only 600 miles east of Diego Garcia, the US air and naval base, the Indian Ocean archipelago is becoming a hub of geopolitical competition and is vulnerable to attacks from Somali pirates. In Victoria’s view, India, however, remains a preferred partner of choice. Seychelles President James Alex Michel has pithily encapsulated the essence of the burgeoning India-Seychelles partnership. "India was the first country which came to Seychelles’ assistance in the fight against piracy. We greatly appreciate the continued support of the government and people of India. India is our ideal partner. We need to build bridges to connect our countries and bring our people together,” said President Michel during his visit to India in 2010. Seychelles has consistently supported India’s candidature for a permanent seat in a reformed UN Security Council. Against this backdrop of a convergence of strategic and economic interests, Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Seychelles is expected to inject the much-needed extra ballast in bilateral relations with the country’s key Indian Ocean partner.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, an e-magazine-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story. He is also Editor of Two Billions Dreams: Celebrating India-Africa Friendship).
Address by The President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil to the National Assembly of Seychelles
Prime Minister’s meeting with President of Seychelles
India presents Dornier aircraft to Seychelles
We are India's ideal partner in Indian Ocean: Seychelles president