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Modi, Jugnauth inaugurate airstrip, jetty in Mauritius, India gets strategic edge against China in Indian Ocean

The inauguration of the airstrip and the jetty at Agaléga Island in Mauritius took place even as President Mohammed Muizzu’s government in the Maldives, another Indian Ocean nation, of late started steering his nation into China’s orbit of geopolitical influence, ignoring the security concerns of India.
nirban Bhaumik
Last Updated : 29 February 2024, 10:24 IST
Last Updated : 29 February 2024, 10:24 IST

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New Delhi: With Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday remotely inaugurating an airstrip and a jetty New Delhi built at Agaléga Island in Mauritius, India’s quest for a strategic edge against China in the Indian Ocean region got a fillip.

Modi virtually joined Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth of Mauritius to inaugurate the airstrip and the jetty along with six other community development projects funded by New Delhi. The new facilities are intended to project India’s power in the southwestern Indian Ocean, in response to the increasing forays of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the region. Jugnauth, however, sought to play down the apprehensions in Mauritius that India could turn the Agaléga Island into a military base and thus undermine the sovereignty of the island nation.

The inauguration of the airstrip and the jetty at Agaléga Island in Mauritius took place even as President Mohammed Muizzu’s government in the Maldives, another Indian Ocean nation, of late started steering his nation into China’s orbit of geopolitical influence, ignoring the security concerns of India.

“India and Mauritius are natural partners in the field of maritime security,” Modi said as Jugnauth joined him from the Agaléga Island of the East African nation. He said that the development partnerships had been the foundation pillars of the strategic partnerships between the two nations. He also underlined that India had always respected the priorities of Mauritius while contributing to the development of the island nation, be it security to the Exclusive Economic Zone or health security.

New Delhi started building the facility after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Port Louis “for the Improvement in sea and air transportation facilities” in Agaléga Island in March 2015. India officially maintains that the facility is intended to help Mauritius enhance its maritime security capabilities. However, given the strategic location of Agaléga Island, speculation has been rife that India may consider deploying some of its Boeing Poseidon 8I maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft in the newly constructed facilities, ostensibly to keep watch on the movement of the Chinese PLA Navy’s vessels in the Indian Ocean region.

The project triggered protests from a section of the local people with the opposition parties in Mauritius, accusing the successive governments led by Anerood Jugnauth and Pravind Jugnauth of undermining the sovereignty of the nation by allowing New Delhi to build a military base in Agaléga Island.

New Delhi suspects the role of Beijing in orchestrating the clamour against India in Mauritius.

Jugnauth on Thursday criticised 'some ill-minded persons both in and outside Mauritius' for trying to make people believe that his government would relinquish the sovereignty over the Agaléga Island and allow India to build a military base there. “I wish to forcefully deplore and condemn the India-bashing campaign that some people in Mauritius have fomented,” he said, adding: "I wish to make it clear once again that the agreement between Mauritius and India with regard to the new airstrip and the jetty facility in the Agaléga Island aims essentially at assisting us in upgrading and reinforcing our maritime security.”

He had in July 2022 told the opposition in parliament that a confidentiality clause in the 2015 MoU between India and Mauritius stipulated that the details of the bilateral deal would not be made public.

“India has always respected Mauritius’s needs and acted as the first responder”, the prime minister said, highlighting New Delhi’s long-standing support to the island nation, be it during the Covid-19 pandemic or to contain the August 2020 oil spill, which had posed a serious threat to two protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve in the island nation. India extended a credit line of $ 1,000 million in US dollars along with assistance worth $ 400 to the people of Mauritius. He remarked that India has been fortunate to contribute to the development of metro rail lines, community development projects, social housing, ENT Hospital, Civil Service College, and sports complexes infrastructures in Mauritius.

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Published 29 February 2024, 10:24 IST

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