Blow to India’s naval base hope in Seychelles
The election of Indian-origin priest Wavel Ramakalawan as the next President of Seychelles on Sunday may well bring the curtain down on India’s hopes of developing a naval base in the East African archipelago.
Ramakalawan had led the opposition to the project, first announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the country in 2015.
Ramakalawan had changed his position on the agreement — for India to develop the naval base on the Assumption Island, located around 1,100km from the country’s largest island, Mahe — from first supporting it to opposing it and stalling its ratification by the country’s parliament. He is reported to have reiterated during his campaign that no foreign military base would be allowed in Seychelles.
After the initial opposition to the agreement, signed in 2015, then foreign secretary S. Jaishankar had made a fresh attempt in January 2018 to resurrect the deal by tweaking it to clear the air about who will control the naval base.
The revised agreement was seen as an effort to allay fears in Seychelles that India will not only develop the naval base but also control it. India’s contention has been that Seychelles will own the base and the two countries will jointly manage it.
However, Jaishankar’s effort to salvage the deal just before he retired as a diplomat came to naught, as did the renewed resolve to work together and develop the base during outgoing Seychelles President Danny Faure’s India visit in June 2018.
The deal has remained in limbo since then with no word from Seychelles. In March 2018, Ramakalawan — while announcing that the Opposition would not ratify the revised agreement — had said: “This deal is dead.”
Apart from the issue of sovereignty, there are also environmental concerns about the development of a naval base on the island, its usefulness in combating piracy notwithstanding. The environmental concerns arise from the Assumption Island’s proximity to Aldabra — the world’s second-largest coral atoll and home to its largest giant tortoise population. The Aldabra Atoll is a Unesco world heritage site.