India's strategic reach in the western Indian Ocean is poised to take a leap with Seychelles allowing India to develop, manage, operate and maintain military facilities on its Assumption Island. Under an agreement signed recently, India will finance and build an airstrip and jetties for use by its navy. The two countries will work together in anti-piracy operations and surveillance of Seychelles' Exclusive Economic Zone to prevent intrusions by potential economic offenders such as poachers and drug and human traffickers. The agreement is a revised version of the one reached in 2015 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Seychelles. That agreement ran into trouble due to objections from Seychelles' opposition parties. It was renegotiated to address Seychelles' apprehensions over sovereignty issues. Valid for 20 years, the agreement provides both parties the right to pull out after giving a year's notice. India's acquisition of naval base facilities in Seychelles marks an important milestone in its efforts to project naval power in distant waters to secure its interests. The Indian Ocean has always been important in India's strategic calculations, especially since much of its sea-trade, especially oil, traverses its waters. If in the past India was keen to keep super-power rivalry out of the Indian Ocean, now it is apprehensive about China's mounting presence in this ocean. In addition to its strong economic and defence ties with over a dozen Indian Ocean littorals, China now has a naval base in Djibouti in Africa. It is in the context of this growing threat to India's security that Delhi decided to speed up the process of clinching a deal with Seychelles.
While the base agreement is a commendable achievement, India's access to the facilities is conditional. In addition to having the right to suspend the agreement in the event of India going to war, Seychelles can allow its other "international partners" to use the facilities on Assumption Island. This means that China, for instance, which is a close partner of Seychelles, could get to use the facilities, too. Seychelles follows a policy of "positive non-alignment". It does seem that it doesn't want to be seen as taking sides between India and China.
Projecting naval power in distant waters is welcome. But India appears to be neglecting its immediate neighbourhood. It has allowed China to dig deep into its neighbouring countries through loans, construction and management of deep-sea ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc. Chinese naval vessels, even submarines, are docking at ports in the neighbourhood and Delhi seems to have no plan to counter this. Projecting naval power in distant waters is fine but is a tad meaningless when the enemy is in ports at our doorstep.