Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has arrived back home after five days tour of three Indian Ocean countries. His tour has served to reclaim some of New Delhi’s lost footing in the area.
New Delhi accepts that India can less afford its past passivity regarding its maritime backyard. Tangible evidence is Narendra Modi's three-nation Indian Ocean tour.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Indian Ocean sojourn -which took him to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka, last week, infused fresh energy into India's mantle as the fulcrum of stability in the Indian Ocean.
It signaled India's intent and capacity to ward off extra-regional challengers and emerge as a 'net security provider' in strategically crucial sea lanes for global commerce and geopolitics.
India has long been a preeminent maritime power in the Indian Ocean but for the past decade, its primacy has been increasingly challenged by China.
India accepts China has genuine interests in the Indian Ocean. The sea lanes across the ocean carry 40 per cent of China's oil and gas imports, for example.
Beijing, with the help of economic and commercial initiatives, is mapping out a web of influence by increasing its presence in the Indian Ocean. Access and control of the islands in the Indian Ocean is crucial for Beijing to secure its strategic interests in the region.
India even contemplated leading a multinational military force against the pirates as disrupted coal supplies along the western Indian Ocean threatened its economy. The US has signaled that it wouldn't mind handing over much of its policing work to India. The latest evidence of this: the setting up of the joint working group on carrier technology.
Apart from the strategic requirement of maintaining its supremacy in the Indian Ocean Region, there are commercial reasons that dictate New Delhi’s recalibration of Indian Ocean policy.
As Modi said 90 percent of India's trade and oil imports moves by sea and as its economy becomes more globally integrated it would become more dependent on the ocean. "So, the Indian ocean region is at the top of our policy priorities," he said during his tour.
Dubbed as the "center stage for the 21st century" by American writer Robert Kaplan, the Indian Ocean has as many as 20 nations within its fold, of whom India stands geographically, ideationally and potential-wise bang in the middle.
Other capable countries like South Africa, Iran, Indonesia and Australia are also members of the Indian Ocean rim family, but none of them has the centrality or attraction like India to assume regional leadership.
When Modi invokes umbilical cords of cultural affinity in Port Louis, Victoria and Colombo, it is more than a rhetorical flourish.
He is reminding the world that the Indian Ocean derives its ethos and character from India, which is back with a bang in the water body named after it.