India Needs to Refocus on Its SAGAR Vision

The swearing-in ceremony of PM Modi as the India’s prime minister for the third time, also gave a fresh opportunity to India to refocus on its SAGAR Vision, as enunciated by PM Modi in 2015. The presence of various regional leaders at the ceremony, and the importance of SAGAR to the regional cooperation, can give a fresh impetus to India to work on SAGAR Vision

By Asad Mirza

Opinion

India invited President of Maldives, Mohammad Muizzu; President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe; Vice President of Seychelles, Ahmed Afif, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina; Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Kumar Jugnauth; Prime Minister of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay, to Prime minister-designate Narendra Modi’s third swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, June 9, 2024.

Displaying its commitment to the policy of regional cooperation and security and the SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) Vision, India had earlier invited SAARC and BIMSTEC leaders for the 2014 and 2019 swearing-in ceremonies, also.

While India’s neighbourhood first policy is about engagement with neighbouring nations like Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Myanmar; India has no bilateral ties with the Taliban regime of Afghanistan and it also avoided inviting Myanmar, which is under the rule of a military junta.

SAGAR Vision

PM Modi launched India’s SAGAR vision doctrine, during his visit to the Indian Ocean island states of Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka in 2015, through which India aims to strengthen its economic and security ties with the neighbouring nations in the Indian Ocean region.

PM Modi launched India’s SAGAR vision doctrine, in 2015, through which India aims to strengthen its economic and security ties with the neighbouring nations in the Indian Ocean region

With SAGAR, India not only hopes to enhance its maritime capabilities but also counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative, through which China has constantly tried to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean region.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi used his visits to Seychelles and Mauritius – besides Sri Lanka – to enunciate a proactive vision of India’s interests and responsibilities in this sensitive region. It was indeed the clearest expression yet by an Indian leader of what the Indian Ocean and the region around it mean for Delhi.

“We seek a future for Indian Ocean that lives up to the name of SAGAR – Security and Growth for All in the Region,” Mr. Modi had said, launching the offshore patrol vessel MCGS Barracuda in Mauritius on March 12, 2015. “Our goal is to seek a climate of trust and transparency; respect for international maritime rules and norms by all countries; sensitivity to each other’s interests; peaceful resolution of maritime security issues; and increase in maritime cooperation.” he further said.

In a sense, India has now stepped out of the closet to engage with the wider Indian Ocean region, stressing that its security interests are critical. After all, the perpetrators of one of the worst terror attacks in the country’s history, Mumbai 2008, came by sea.

By inviting Seychelles and Mauritius to join the existing maritime security cooperation arrangement among India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister signalled that Delhi was ready to play a pre-eminent role in the region.

PM Modi has batted for the creation of a strong regional grouping around the Indian Ocean. However, India’s record in building multilateral institutions has been poor – the Indian Ocean Rim Association is a case in point.

SAGAR has distinct but inter-related elements and underscore India’s engagement in the Indian Ocean. These are enhancing capacities to safeguard land and maritime territories and interests; deepening economic and security cooperation in the littoral; promoting collective action to deal with natural disasters and maritime threats like piracy, terrorism and emergent non-state actors; working towards sustainable regional development through enhanced collaboration; and, engaging with countries beyond our shores with the aim of building greater trust and promoting respect for maritime rules, norms and peaceful resolution of disputes.

India has now stepped out of the closet to engage with the wider Indian Ocean region, stressing that its security interests are critical

The principles enshrined in SAGAR provide India with a coherent framework to address some of the challenges relating to economic revival, connectivity, security, culture and identity, and India’s own evolving approach to these issues. The challenge before India is to ensure intra-ocean trade and investment, and the sustainable harnessing of the wealth of the seas, including food, medicines and clean energy.

Blue Economy

A related aspect is the emergence of the ‘Blue Economy’ as a promising new pillar of prosperity in the region, with immense economic and employment potential. India is already engaging with its neighbours in Blue Economy initiatives, particularly in the areas of marine biotechnology, exploration and sustainable exploitation of ocean mineral resources, sustainable fishing practices, and harnessing of ocean energy.

Additionally, blue economy can provide many other opportunities, too. Oceans provide a substantial portion of the global population with food and livelihood, as well as transportation for 80% of global trade.

The seabed currently provides 32% of the global supply of hydrocarbons, with exploration expanding. The sea also offers vast potential for renewable blue energy production from wind, wave, tidal, thermal and biomass sources.

New technologies are opening frontiers of marine resource development from bio prospecting to mining of seabed mineral resources (poly-metallic nodules).

The principles enshrined in SAGAR provide India with a coherent framework to address some of the challenges relating to economic revival, connectivity, security, culture and identity, and India’s own evolving approach to these issues

Checking Chinese Influence

China through its maritime Silk Route (part of BRI initiative) has been increasing its influence in Indian Ocean region (IOR). Moreover, Chinese investments in India’s neighbouring countries are of dual nature i.e. commercial with military underpinnings. This ‘string of pearls’ strategy has caused strategic concerns for India. In this context, SAGAR vision assumes much importance in countering such issues.

For the future, India must focus on the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). IORA’s mandate is to promote sustainable growth and balanced development in the region. IORA needs to consider a special regional cooperation programme on Blue Economy.

SAGAR vision should not only tap the potential of oceans and marine areas for economic development of member states but also consider focusing on contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN

Recently, India has been granted the observer status in Indian Ocean Commission (IOC). India can learn from IOC’s Bottom-up regionalism strategy. This strategy has produced a sub-regional view and definition of maritime security problems and local ownership of pathways towards workable solutions.

Further, there is also a need to make a tangible impact through Project Sagarmala, with a focus on port development, connectivity, port-led industrialisation, and coastal community development, in a timely and effective manner.

The role of the Coast Guard Agencies in all the Indian Ocean littorals becomes critical. Therefore, SAGAR vision should now be expanded to include the coast guard agencies of the IOR littorals countries, too.

SAGAR vision should not only tap the potential of oceans and marine areas for economic development of member states but also consider focusing on contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN.

India’s consultative, democratic and equitable leadership can help achieve the security and sustainable growth to all in the region. Apart from it, India must also lead in ensuring Sustainability/Security and Growth for All in the Region.

-The writer is a Delhi-based senior political and international affairs commentator. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda