NEW DELHI :
Prime minister Narendra Modi on Saturday spoke to the leaders of two of India’s maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean region — Sri Lanka and Mauritius — and pledged help to combat covid19 and its economic fallout on their economies.
“Had an excellent talk with President @GotabayaR. Sri Lanka is fighting COVID-19 effectively under his leadership. India will continue to support our close maritime neighbour in dealing with the pandemic and its economic impact," Modi said in a Twitter post after his conversation with Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
“We agreed to accelerate India assisted development projects in Sri Lanka and also strengthen investment links," Modi said in a second Twitter post.
An Indian foreign ministry statement said that Modi “assured the Sri Lankan President that India would continue to provide all possible support to Sri Lanka for mitigating the effects of the pandemic."
“President Rajapaksa briefed Prime Minister on the steps being taken by his Government to restart economic activity. In this context, both leaders agreed on the need to accelerate Indian-assisted development projects in Sri Lanka. They also discussed the possibilities of promoting investments and value-addition in Sri Lanka by the Indian private sector," it added.
Rajapaksa has expressed concern over the impact of covid-19 on tourist arrivals in the country — one of the major contributors to the Sri Lankan economy and one of the most affected sectors globally due to the spread of covid-19. India had promised help during a virtual meeting of South Asian leaders in March. But soon after, India’s strategic rival China moved in with a $ 500 million loan from it’s central bank at reduced interest rates that Colombo accepted. China is already one of the biggest investors in various infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. But there has been criticism, both locally and internationally, and growing concerns that China has lured Sri Lanka into a debt trap. So far India has sent consignments of medicines to Sri Lanka as donation. India has traditionally considered the Indian Ocean region and countries in its immediate neighbourhood as within its sphere of influence. But China is now increasingly making its presence felt in the Indian Ocean region through its investments through the signature Belt and Road Initiative as well as through an increased naval presence. In 2017, Chinaopened its first overseas naval base in Djibouti. It has been steadily increasing fishing as well as other economic activities in the Indian Ocean region particularly along the east coast of Africa — developments that India is keeping a wary eye on.
In his second conversation, Modi spoke to the prime minister of Mauritius Pravind K Jugnauth.
“Thank you, Prime Minister @PKJugnauth for our warm conversation today! Congratulations for successfully controlling COVID-19 in Mauritius," Modi said in a Twitter post.
“Indians will stand by their Mauritian brothers and sisters at this difficult time," Modi added in a second post.
Modi’s conversation with Jugnauth took place on a day the Indian naval ship Kesari docked at Port Louis carrying medical supplies for Mauritius.
“In addition, a 14-member Specialist Medical Team comprising Indian Navy doctors and paramedics is also embarked onboard this ship, to work alongside their Mauritian counterparts and together render assistance for covid-19 related emergencies. The Medical Assistance Team includes among others, a Community Medicine specialist, a pulmonologist and an anesthesiologist," a statement from the Indian navy said.
At hand to recieve the medical supplies were Mauritius Minister for Health, Kailesh Jagutpal and Indian High Commissioner to Mauritius,
“The assistance to Mauritius is a part of the Government of India outreach amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Mission Sagar’, is in consonance with the Prime Ministers vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region ‘SAGAR’," the navy statement said.
“This mission highlights the importance accorded by India to relations with the countries of the IOR and builds on the excellent relations existing between the two countries to battle the COVID-19 pandemic," it added.
Since assuming office in 2014 for the first time, prime minister Modi has made special efforts to reach out to Mauritius. Jugnauth was invited to his swearing in 2014 and was also the chief guest at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas event in India last year. India is also helping Mauritius upgrade infrastructure on its upgrade facilities on the Agalega islands including a jetty and airport terminal building. The pact to upgrade the infrastructure was signed in 2015 during Modi’s visit and it had provided for “setting up and upgradation of infrastructure for improving sea and air connectivity" and enhancing “capabilities of the Mauritian Defence Forces in safeguarding their interests in the Outer Island. Analysts however have speculated that the facility could be seen as a “base" that can be used by Indian naval ships as well.
Besides this, Mauritius is a key gateway for foriegn direct investments into India.