With Parliament in chaos over separatist leader Masarat Alam release and Land bill hanging in balance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his five-day official visit to the three key Indian Ocean island neighbours – the Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka – in a bid to ramp up India’s profile in the crucial maritime region amid China’s looming presence. In the Seychelles – his first stop – Modi is set to be accorded a unique Gujarati-style welcome from the Gujarati NRIs living in the island country, located 1,500 km east of southeast Africa.
Banners welcoming Modi have been put up along the road from the airport to a venue set up to felicitate him. The Seychelles has a population of around 10,000 Gujarati NRIs, including 5,000 from Kutch district, according to Desh Gujarat. Modi will hold discussions with Seychelles President James Alexis Michel to strengthen maritime ties and enhance bilateral development cooperation. Three agreements are to be inked between the Seychelles and India during the visit. India’s bilateral cooperation with the Seychelles is mainly in the field of health, education, defence and maritime security.
India recently gave a patrol ship to the Seychelles for its Coast Guard to better patrol the country’s extensive Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Both sides are likely to ink an agreement to strengthen the energy sector of the Seychelles, an Indian Ocean archipelago of 90,000 people. In Mauritius, his next stop on March 11-12, Modi will hold meetings with Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth to further strengthen India’s special and unique relations with that country. Modi will also be the chief guest at the Mauritian National Day celebrations and will call on President Kailash Purryag, and meet Leader of Opposition Paul Berenger.
Modi is to address the Mauritian Parliament on March 12. He will pay a visit to the Ganga Talao and Appravasi Ghat, both of which are associated with the arrival of the Indian indentured labourers in Mauritius 180 years ago. He will also visit the Mahatma Gandhi Institute. Two MoUs are set to be inked during Modi’s visit. One for improvement of Sea and Air Transportation Facilities at Agalega and the other for cooperation in the field of ocean economy.
The first MoU is a project that entails construction of a jetty for berthing of ships, and rehabilitation and repaving of the runaway at Agalega island. The project also includes setting up of a power generation facility, a water desalination plant and construction of a National Coast Guard Post, according to the Mauritius government. The second MoU is aimed to strengthen and expand cooperation in the field of ocean economy, fisheries and aquaculture, seaport development, shipping and green tourism.
Modi’s visit to Port Louis comes even as India exported its first warship, the Coast Guard Ship Barracuda to Mauritius last month. CGS Barracuda is the first ever naval ship to be built by India for a foreign nation. The ship was built by defence PSU Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited (GRSE) in Kolkata. The $58.5 million CGS Barracuda measures 74.10 m in length.
On the last leg of his trip, Modi will be in Sri Lanka on March 13 and 14, during which he will hold talks with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. His visit comes amid a controversy triggered by Wickremesinghe’s statement during a television interview that his country’s law has a provision for shooting intruders, referring to Indian fishermen.
Modi will address a special sitting of the Sri Lankan Parliament and also lay a wreath at the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) Memorial and visit the Mahabodhi Society. President Sirisena, who was in India last month on his maiden bilateral visit, will host a state banquet in honour of Modi.
Modi is also expected to travel to Anuradhapura, Talaimannar and Jaffna. In Anuradhapura, he will visit the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi. In Jaffna, he will unveil a plaque at the site of the proposed India-funded Jaffna Cultural Centre and also hand over to beneficiaries, houses built with Indian assistance. In Talaimannar, Modi will flag off the first train signifying recommencement of the Talaimannar/Medawachchiya sector of the train service to Colombo, following the rehabilitation work carried out with Indian credit assistance, said the Sri Lankan foreign ministry. Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka is the first official visit by an Indian prime minister in 27 years after the 1987 visit by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. He will be accorded a ceremonial welcome, including a Guard of Honour and gun salute. Modi has said in tweets that he is eagerly looking forward to enhancing ties with the three countries.