By- Manish Chand
It’s a multi-dimensional relationship that remains embedded in a rich shared past, but continues to pulsate in the living present and points to a shining future. Entwined by history, culture, democratic values and intimate ancestral ties, the spirit and sounds of India are omnipresent and resonant in Mauritius. From the Aparvasi Ghat, where the first batch of Indian indentured labourers came more than 180 years ago to work on sugar plantations to the shining Cyber Tower in Port Louis, the journey and transformation of Mauritius into a modern, confident and resurgent nation is organically linked with Indians and the India Story.
(Mahatma Gandhi leads the salt satyagraha at Dandi in 1930. Photo Courtesy: The Hindu, File photo)From Gandhi to Modi
The multilayered ties between India and Mauritius are reflected in the National Day of Mauritius on March 12, which celebrates the launch of the salt satyagraha by Mahatma Gandhi 85 years ago, a revolutionary step that culminated in the freedom of India in 1947 and provided inspiration to Mauritius that became independent in 1968. This year, Mauritius will have a special guest on its National Day: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This will be Prime Minister Modi’s first trip to the strategically located island nation and will focus on a host of interlinked issues, including maritime security, anti-piracy operations, intensification of trade and investment, and the joint development of blue economy of the Indian Ocean.
(Prime Minister meeting with Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam of Mauritius in New Delhi, 27th May 2014) Mauritius’ importance in the new India government’s foreign policy was more than clear as then Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam was the only non-SAARC leader to be invited for the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi in May 2014. In sync with close relations, two-way visits between the leaders of the two countries are frequent. President Pranab Mukherjee was the Chief Guest at Mauritius’ 45th Independence Day celebrations in 2013.
Strategy and Defence: Gateway to Africa
With its strategic location, Mauritius forms the lynchpin of India’s vision of the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace and security. India has forged extensive defence relations with Mauritius to safeguard sea lanes of communication, which trawls over 70 per cent of India’s energy imports, from depredations of terrorists and pirates. The Indian Navy has been proactively cooperating with the National Coast Guard of Mauritius to protect common national interests. Indian naval ships regularly conduct surveillance and joint patrolling of the vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Mauritius. India has gifted Advanced Light Helicopter Dhruv (financed by US$ 10.42 million grant from India), a Coastal Radar Surveillance System (CSRS) and an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) to the government of Mauritius to bolster its counter-piracy capabilities. Personnel from the Mauritian Police Force are trained annually in Indian Defence Training institutes. India has also been sending Diving and a Marine Commando (MARCOS) training team to Mauritius for training.
With its multifarious relations with Africa, India also sees Mauritius as a gateway to a vibrant and resurgent continent. Mauritius, with membership of regional economic communities (RECs) such as SADC and COMESA, is a key plank for accelerating India’s economic and strategic engagement with Africa.
(External Affairs Minister paying tribute at the Aparvasi Ghat on 180th Anniversary of Aapravasi Diwas in Mauritius, 2nd November 2014)Indian Diaspora: Bridge-Builders & Nation-Builders
Mr Modi’s maiden visit to the island nation will underscore India’s multi-hued ties with Mauritius, where 68% of the 1.296 million people are people of Indian Origin. It all started on November 2, 1834 when the first batch of Indian labourers arrived in the island country aboard MV Atlas to work on sugar plantations. Mauritius now celebrates November 2 every year as the ‘Apravasi Divas.’ And Aparvasi Ghat, a World Heritage Site, today stands as an enduring monument to the inextinguishable human spirit to triumph over all existential hardships and the unique human gift of remaking one’s destiny. "This has been a truly remarkable story of the struggle, perseverance and indomitable spirit of your forefathers, who overcame harsh obstacles to build the modern Mauritian nation – a nation of opportunities, prosperity and freedom,” said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her visit to Mauritius in November 2014.
Over the years, India’s relations with Mauritius have diversified to include just about every area, with business bonding becoming stronger by the day. India is Mauritius’ largest trading partner, and has been the largest exporter of goods and services to Mauritius since the last eight years. Mauritius has been the single largest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into India. During 2012-13, FDI equity inflows from Mauritius into India amounted to US$ 9.497 billion. The next financial year (2013-14) saw India attracting $4.85 billion in FDI from Mauritius. Petroleum forms single largest export item by India to the island nation. A three-year pact between the Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) and the State Trading Corporation of Mauritius for supply of all petroleum requirements of Mauritius was renewed in July 2013. Indian PSUs have made a mark for themselves in the island country. The Bank of Baroda (BoB), Life Insurance Corporation (LIC), State Bank of India (Mauritius) Limited and and New India Assurance Corporation (NIAC) are active in the financial sector. Other PSUs with a substantive presence include India Handloom House, Telecommunications Consultant India Ltd (TCIL), Indian Oil (Mauritius) Limited (IOML) and Mahanagar Telephone (Mauritius) Ltd. Indian investments in Mauritius span diverse sectors such as health, hospitality, pharmaceuticals, education, financial services, IT and BPO. Mauritian companies have also invested in India in sectors such as textile, logistics and banking.
Development and skill building
Development partnership is growing, with India extending several lines of credit to Mauritius for infrastructure, skills development and capacity building. Some prominent Indian-assisted projects in Mauritius include the Cyber Tower at Ebene, the Swami Vivekananda International Conference Centre (SVICC), Mahatma Gandhi Institute, the Upadhyay Training Centre, the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital, the Subramania Bharati Eye Centre, the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre and the Rabindranath Tagore Institute.
India has been generous with funds and expertise to stimulate the flowering of a resurgent nation. In 2012, New Delhi announced an economic package, comprising credit line of US$ 250 million and a grant of US$ 20 million for the purchase of defense and security related equipment. India has also extended a slew of LOCs to Mauritius for infrastructure development, skills development, capacity building and project appraisal.
Connecting Hearts and Minds
(Left: Mahatma Gandhi Institute; Right: Rabindranath Tagore Institute, in Mauritius) Call it cultural alchemy, if you like. The Mahatma Gandhi Institute and the Rabindranath Tagore institute in Mauritius are beacons of Indian culture and deep spiritual connections between the two countries. India is the preferred destination for thousands of Mauritian students dreaming of better prospects in life.
From Indian languages like Hindi and Bhojpuri to Hindustani music, kathak, tabla and yoga, Indians and Mauritians know how to speak, sing and dance together. With such organic cultural links and a coalescence of strategic and business interests, the relations between India and Mauritius can only become stronger and acquire the depth and richness the Indian Ocean symbolizes.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network,www.indiawrites.org, an e-magazine-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story. He is also Editor of Two Billions Dreams: Celebrating India-Africa Friendship).
External Affairs Minister's Keynote Address at Business Meet in Port Louis, Mauritius (November 03, 2014)
180th Anniversary of arrival of Indian indentured labour in Mauritius
External Affairs Minister’s remarks at the Reception onboard the Western Naval Fleet [Mauritius, 02 November 2014]
Foreign Secretary’s opening remarks during the Media Briefing on Prime Minister’s meetings with the Leaders of the SAARC member countries and Mauritius