New base in Indian Ocean shows India’s obsession of supremacy

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According to Indian media reports, the Indian Navy is stepping up its presence in the Indian Ocean as it is set to open a new base on March 6 on “strategically important” islands near the Maldives, from where New Delhi will start withdrawing its troops in the next four days.

India has long viewed the Indian Ocean as its backyard. This hegemonic mentality is the basis on which India engages with smaller South Asian neighboring countries. Since last year, India had been told its troops “cannot stay” in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives, which shows the resentment of South Asian countries toward India’s hegemonic mentality and its hypocritical “Neighborhood First” strategy.

During these last few days, India was clearly hoping to exert pressure on the Maldives government to change its mind, Xie Chao, an associate professor at the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University, told the Global Times, adding that the new base India is going to set up can be seen as punishment to the Maldives, after it demanded that India withdraw its troops. However, it is also a means to check China’s influence in the region.

“This move is very typical of India, and expected,” Xie said.

The new base will augment India’s “operational surveillance” of the region, according to a statement issued by the Indian Navy on Saturday. An Indian official, cited by Indian media outlet Economic Times, mentioned that the new base would “give India a strong foothold in the area to keep an eye on the military and commercial activities of adversaries in the area.” Considering the importance of the Indian Ocean route for trade, particularly for China and other countries, India’s actions indicate a confrontational approach aimed at asserting control over the region by leveraging its geographic advantages.

Long Xingchun, a professor at the School of International Relations, Sichuan International Studies University and president of Chengdu Institute of World Affairs, believes that the new base is more of a political gesture rather than having real military significance.

“As India loses its foothold in the Maldives, it wants to send a message that it is still the regional hegemon,” said Long.

However, regional countries such as the Maldives have gradually realized the true nature of India’s attitude. It’s no wonder that during a book launch event in New Delhi on Saturday, India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was asked whether India was being a “bully” in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean region. His response was, “Big bullies don’t provide $4.5 billion in aid when neighboring countries are distressed.”

While the top Indian diplomat boasted about India’s aid to its neighbors, what he tried to conceal was how India used the aid to tighten its control over them. Once these countries try to break free from India’s influence, India will play the “aid” card to affect their India policy. Amid the India-Maldives diplomatic row over the withdrawal of Indian troops, the Indian government has proposed a 22-percent reduction in aid to the Maldives for the 2024-25 financial year.

Nepal experienced India’s carrot-and-stick approach much earlier. In 2015, India provided significant assistance to Nepal after a deadly earthquake in the country. But in the same year, India reportedly imposed a blockade at a crucial crossing on the border with Nepal due to India’s dissatisfaction with Nepal’s passing of a new constitution and enhanced cooperation with China. This caused an economic and humanitarian crisis that severely affected Nepal and its economy.

India’s so-called aid to its neighbors does not alleviate, but rather exacerbates their sense of insecurity due to India’s bullying and tightened control. The carrot-and-stick approach only serves to maintain India’s supremacy in the region. As Xie noted, the current Indian government speaks positively about its “Neighborhood First” policy, but in reality, India has drifted further from its neighbors. As a result, India’s neighbors are becoming more wary and distancing themselves from India’s aggressive behavior and “big brother” mentality.

[Courtesy: Global Times]