India corporations up ties in neighbourhood with excessive stage visits

Sandeep Dikshit

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 26

India continues to put a premium on its neighbourhood with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on overseas visits despite the pandemic.

Jaishankar is in Seychelles to hold talks with the new Indian-origin President Ram Kalawan to build stronger ties with the island nation strategically placed in the Indian Ocean.

Jaishankar, in particular, would be exploring the prospects of leasing an island to build a naval base.

Ram Kalawan’s party in Parliament had aligned with three other parties to shoot down the agreement signed by his predecessor and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

New Delhi has utilised Covid diplomacy as has its ally, the US, to upgrade ties with countries in the neighbourhood. Preceding Jaishankar’s visit, India had sent aid to Seychelles to combat the Covid pandemic.

It had earlier smoothened the way for taking on lease an island by undertaking four infrastructure projects – the Attorney General’s office, the secretariat building, police headquarters and a convention centre.

In Nepal, Shringla opened his engagement with Covid aid in a meeting with Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal. He then called on PM KP Oli in a continuing reset of the relationship that was facilitated by earlier visits by RAW chief Samant Goel and Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane.

Nepal had wanted Foreign Secretary level talks much earlier but India preferred other ice-breaking gestures and visits to precede the interaction.

Oli has sacked his Defence Minister who had raised temperatures on a land dispute with India. He also put on hold printing of text books with a new map incorporating areas on which Nepal recently laid claim.

Shringla said his undertaking would be to perceive how the relationship could be taken forward. “We went through a very large number of issues of bilateral cooperation,” he said after calling on Oli in Kathmandu.

“We both agreed on various steps to advance some of the areas of the cooperation,” Shringla noted after meeting his counterpart Paudyal.

In Colombo, Doval will revive a trilateral interaction on defence cooperation at a two-day meeting from Thursday with Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Maj Gen (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne and Maldives Defence Minister Mariya Didi.

Such interaction is being held by the Modi government after six years. The UPA government had initiated this format, which led to cooperation on maritime surveillance and domain awareness about the south-western Indian Ocean by sharing radar coverage.

Significantly, Colombo was lukewarm to a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with PM Mahinda Rajapaksa correcting him by stating that Sri Lanka was not in a debt trap due to Chinese projects. On the other hand, Maldives has been receptive to the US offer for defence cooperation.

In the last such trilateral interaction, India had invited Mauritius and Seychelles as guest countries. The NSA is also expected to have other high level bilateral engagements, including with the Rajapaksas.

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