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India Seychelles relations – Why is Seychelles important for India?

India Seychelles relations – Why is Seychelles important for India?

Relevance:

  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & Rest of the World || Africa

Why in the news?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently inaugurated a range of Indian projects with President of Seychelles Wavel Ramkalawan.

Historical background:

  • The Seychelles is an archipelago country of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, off East Africa. India shares a long history with this island country, especially since the advent of Muslim rulers and even earlier.
  • Both countries were also subject to European colonial exploitation for a long period of time.
  • But in modern context, diplomatic ties between India and Seychelles have existed since Seychelles gained independence in 1976.
  • When Seychelles attained freedom, a contingent from the Indian Naval Ship, INS Nilgiri, took part in the Independence Day celebrations.
  • A resident high commissioner of India has been in Victoria since 1987 while Seychelles opened its resident mission in New Delhi in 2008.

Current dynamics:

  • India and Seychelles have broad based relations that cover a host of sectors including defence, culture, trade and technical cooperation.
  • Economic relations: Trade between India and Seychelles amounted to only US$65 million in 2019–20 with the balance of trade heavily in India’s favour.
    • The total imports from India in 2014 was US$ 43.80 million, while total exports to India in 2018 was only US$ 0.023 million.
    • Bank of Baroda has been maintaining a successful overseas branch in Victoria since 1978 and is doing a profitable business.
    • Indian private companies such as Bharti Airtel and Tata also do have good presence in the island country.
    • While Seychelles act as a major tourism destination for India, the island country imports a range of articles including food, daily appliances, petroleum products etc.
  • Defence Cooperation: Both countries maintain close defiance ties. Seychelles is of strategic importance to India as it lies close to global lanes of shipping and commerce and is an important base in the fight against seaborne terrorism and piracy in the Indian Ocean Region.
    • India has provided Seychelles with monetary support and equipment such as Dornier 228s and Chetak helicopters for meeting its defence needs. India also handed over a fast patrol vessel (PS Zoroaster) to the island nation.
    • India has also been deputing officers from the Indian armed forces in Seychelles and helping in capacity building of the Seychelles’ armed forces.
    • Various Indian Navy ships have visited Seychelles as part of their anti-piracy deployment and protection of Seychelles EEZ.
    • The Seychelles government has also leased the Assumption Island to the Indian Navy to build an overseas base of operations there.
    • Recently in 2018, the Indian Government announced that India was extending Seychelles a US$100 million credit to develop its defence capabilities
  • Cultural relations: Cultural cooperation between India and Seychelles has always been significant. Among the bilateral cultural exchanges, a landmark event is the Seychelles India Day held in its capital Victoria every year.
    • A Festival of India “IndiaFest 2015”, organised in Seychelles in October 2015 coinciding with the 3rd Seychelles India Day.
    • India also organised its 1st International Day of Yoga was celebrated in Seychelles. Events included a mass yoga session in the morning, inauguration of a weeklong exhibition on Yoga and a seminar-cum-yoga demonstration.
    • People-to-people contact: India has an important link with Seychelles in the form of Indian nationals being the earliest inhabitants of this island, mostly from Tamil Nadu and later from Gujarat, who came as traders, labourers, construction workers and more recently as professionals. The Indian community is visible in all walks of life in Seychelles, particularly in trading.
  • Development Assistance: India has also been the largest development assistance giving country to Seychelles. Seychelles was the first country to receive the Covid vaccine from India.
    • Only recently India provided 50,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines had helped Seychelles in moving towards the goals of achieving 70% herd immunity by the end of April 2021 and opening up the economy.
  • International Organisations: Recently, India has been accepted as an observer of the Indian Ocean Commission, of which Seychelles is a member.
    • With the ratification of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) Framework Agreement in September 2017, Seychelles has officially become one of the Founding Members of ISA.

Challenges in the bilateral relation:

Though the bilateral relations between India and Seychelles has largely been stable, yet it has been facing minor challenges.  These are:

  • Increasing trade balance in favour of India: The bilateral trade balance is overwhelmingly in favour of India. This needs to be balanced with more imports from the island country for sustainable trade relations.
  • China’s growing influence: China has been aggressively investing in infrastructure across the island countries in Indian Ocean region and Seychelles is no exception. India needs to counter the Chinese influence through increased development assistance, trusted conduct and mutual growth strategy.
  • Defence and maritime security: The waters around the islands is one of the highly piracy vulnerable. India’s defence efforts have not yielded much in improving the security of this region.
  • Lack of connectivity: Despite having one of the largest Indian communities, there are only a few flights from India to Seychelles with exorbitant charges.

Way forward:

  • India and Seychelles both need to have continuous high level political exchanges to keep the trusted and mutual relationship intact. The contentions of either must be amicably resolved between both countries only.
  • India needs to increase its assistance to the island country amidst challenges such as climate change impact, China’s growing influence and increasing trade balance in favour of India.
  • The defence cooperation also needs to be strengthened with intelligence sharing, joint military exercises, capacity building etc.
  • The connectivity between both countries needs to be increased immediately. The number of flights connecting both countries should be more in numbers.

Model Mains Question:

  1. Discuss the strategic significance of Seychelles for India’s interests in the Indian Ocean Region.