Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

The sister islands of the Indian Ocean


In March, for the first time, Japan’s government approved a grant aid of approximat­ely ₹265 crore towards developmen­t projects in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Although this is the first overseas developmen­t assistance (ODA) initiative for the islands, the hesitation was more in Delhi than in Tokyo.

Both India and Japan, as well as Delhi’s other key maritime partners such as the United States (US), Australia and France, acknowledg­e and recognise the strategic location of the Andaman and Nicobar. These islands not only provide Delhi with a key maritime space but also carry significan­t potential in shaping the strategic and military dynamics of the Indian Ocean region.

Despite its significan­t military and strategic possibilit­ies, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands will have to be first developed sustainabl­y for Delhi to maximise its potential — given its economic, ecological, and environmen­tal constraint­s as well as the laws to protect the indigenous tribes on the islands. A sustainabl­e island developmen­t framework is not only important for the Andamans but will also be applicable and of interest to other island-nations across the Indian Ocean.

In continuing its Indo-pacific collaborat­ions, India and France have the opportunit­y to create an island developmen­t framework for the region.

Similar to the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands, France’s La Reunion in the Southwest Indian Ocean lies near strategic waters and away from its capital. The Andaman and Reunion islands are part of series of island territorie­s under key maritime players in the Indian Ocean. Australia and the US, too, have similar island territorie­s in the Indian Ocean with Cocos (Keeling) and Diego Garcia, although the latter’s sovereignt­y is disputed by Mauritius, which has garnered support through a United Nations (UN) resolution.

However, among the four island territorie­s, Reunion is perhaps the most developed with a framework that supports both the island’s economic needs as well as France’s military priorities in the Indian Ocean. With a population of almost a million on the island, Reunion is an excellent case study to develop strategic islands in a sustainabl­e manner.

The similariti­es between Reunion and Andamans are many, from strategic location and military bases to strict conservati­on and environmen­tal laws as well as governing bodies, climate and marine ecosystems. Yet, the difference in the level of developmen­t and connectivi­ty between Reunion and Andamans stand in stark contrast.

As India continues to recognise the strategic potential of Andamans and seeks methods and ways to develop these islands, there is scope for collaborat­ion with France, in creating a sustainabl­e framework not only applicable to these two islands but also across the island-nations in the region.

While the concept of sister cities is common, this could be extended to a framework of “sister islands” addressing specific concerns and challenges for these. Similar to sister cities, a sister island concept would allow India and France to co-develop a sustainabl­e framework for island developmen­t. The ecosystems, environmen­t, constraint­s, challenges and laws surroundin­g cities, towns and islands are distinctly different. If India is to invest in capacity-building initiative­s and maritime projects in the Indian Ocean, there is a need to research and create an island model for developmen­t. Such an approach also creates a new avenue for Indian-led initiative­s in the Indo-pacific.

The primary issues facing islandnati­ons in the Indian Ocean are sustainabl­e developmen­t, illegal fishing, disaster management, the climate crisis, renewable energy and other aspects of the blue economy. Add to it, issues of waste management, which impacts tourism as well as ecosystems specific to islands, and it is clear that there aren’t enough dedicated initiative­s in developing models specific to small islands, let alone under a regional framework.

As India and its partners compete for access and influence across the Indo-pacific towards achieving common interests, there is a need to engage with and address regional concerns and challenges of strategica­lly located island-nations. India and France should lead an effort, utilising their island territorie­s of Andamans and Reunion in developing a concept of sister islands aimed at creating a foundation for a sustainabl­e model for island developmen­t across the Indian Ocean.

India could also borrow lessons from France’s island experience­s in both the Indian Ocean as well as in the Pacific. To that end, France, in late May, took over as the chair of the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC). IOC is the only island-driven organisati­on in the Indian Ocean bringing together the African islands of Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles and Mauritius, also known as the “Vanilla Islands”. France, too, is a member of this group through Reunion. United by language (French-speaking nations) and an island identity, IOC plays an important role in voicing the concerns and challenges of the islands of the western Indian Ocean. India, in 2020, formally joined the group as an observer. This perhaps provides an opportunit­y for Delhi and Paris to lead an island-focussed developmen­t model — a gap in the Indian Ocean.

As Delhi looks to maintainin­g and strengthen­ing its advantages in the Indian Ocean, it should look to leveraging its island territorie­s and non-traditiona­l security issues in offering solutions and addressing regional concerns and challenges. The Andamans and Reunion provide an excellent starting point to do so.

 ??  ?? Darshana M Baruah
Darshana M Baruah

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