India’s flood relief outreach to Madagascar will be followed up this week, as the island’s Defence Minister Rakotonirina Leon Jean Richard travels to Lucknow and Delhi from Tuesday — the first such high level visit since Delhi incorporated the island into the “Indian Ocean Region (IOR)”.
During his visit, Mr. Richard is expected to discuss implementing the MoU on defence cooperation signed during President Ramnath Kovind’s visit to Antananarivo in March 2018. The Minister will travel first to Lucknow to attend the Defexpo, and later attend the India-Africa Defence Ministers’ conference in Delhi, and hold a bilateral meeting with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday.
Mr. Richard will also discuss the devastation in Madagascar due to flooding after a cyclone and heavy rains in the island’s north-west left at least 31 dead and affected nearly 100,000 people. Last week, the Indian navy conducted “Operation Vanilla”, with INS Airavat delivering relief material including food, clothing, medicines and water. Officials said the humanitarian gesture by New Delhi also showcased India’s strategic capabilities in the furthermost islands of the IOR.
“ INS Airavat delivers relief supplies to cyclone-hit Madagascar. SAGAR Policy at work — India as an early responder,” External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted about the operation on Sunday, referring to India’s policy of “Security and Growth for All in the Region”(SAGAR) for IOR islands.
The SAGAR concept was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March 2015, during his visit to Mauritius and other Indian Ocean islands. At the time, Madagascar, as well as Comoros and the French island of Reunion, were a part of the East and South Africa Division at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
However, recently the MEA decided to include the three islands as part of the IOR (Indian Ocean Region) desk along with Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritus and Seychelles. In a December 16 circular on the decision, the MEA said the incorporation of the “Vanilla islands” as they are called, reflected “the growing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean Islands within the framework of Indo-Pacific”.
In October last year, Minister of State in the MEA V. Muraleedharan travelled to the Reunion islands and met with the leaders of all the ‘Vanilla Islands’ as well.
The inclusion of the region in the IOR signals the government’s increasing level of comfort with the “Indo-Pacific” concept that describes the entire neighbourhood from the coast of Africa to the U.S. west coast. In one of many changes, effected last week, to the MEA organisational structure, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla decided to club the entire Indian Ocean Region, Southern and Indo-Pacific divisions under one additional secretary (Indo-Pacific).
According to officials, the specific outcomes from Mr. Richard’s visit are still being finalised, but that the effort would be to offer Madagascar strategic cooperation similar to what is currently shared with other IOR countries. The Indian Navy undertakes Joint EEZ patrols with Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius, which have all joined India’s coastal radar chain network.
Maritime Domain Awareness has also emerged as a high priority area and India has signed a series of white shipping agreements and logistics agreements with several countries.
In addition, the Indian Navy has established an Information Fusion Centre (IFC) for Indian Ocean Region (IOR) at Gurugram and has invited international observers for information exchange of movements on the high seas.
(with inputs from Dinakar Peri)