Securing the island nations
With the "neighbourhood first" policy on the mast, India's ship sailed to the two Indian Ocean nations in quick succession in Prime Minister Modi's maiden foreign visit post-re-election. India has been assertive in its stance of comprehensive development in the region. The SAGAR doctrine – Security and Growth for all in the region – clearly demonstrates the idea India wants to pursue under Modi. Evident right from the swearing-in ceremony where cordial invitations to BIMSTEC members was extended in a bid to implicitly state the regional importance of nations on India's radar that conveniently discounted Pakistan and China owing to strategic and geographical differences. The recent visits to Malé and Colombo have served one glaring purpose – reinvigorating relationship with pro-Indian dispensations of both countries. This was evident through the "India-first" stance put forward by heads of both the countries who also acknowledged the historical relationship that has been maintained between them and India. The Maldives and India signed a slew of agreements between them in areas such as defence, tourism, economic cooperation, health and connectivity. Beside the pacts, financial assistance of $1.4 billion as budgetary support and $800 million Line of Credit for "people-centric and socio-economic projects" already exist to highlight the growing bilateralism between the nations. India has also extended grant assistance of $5.5 million for the implementation of "High Impact Community Development Projects" as well as a cash grant of $6.9 million for implementation of community infrastructure, access to education and environmental protection. The extended arm of aid from India should not be surprising at all since Maldivian President Solih himself acknowledged India's assistance to the Maldives in recent decades – right from foiling a coup threatening to topple the then Maldivian government in 1988 to rendering help to the then government in Malé after the December 2004 Tsunami, and airlifting gallons of drinking water supplies to the Maldives after a fire crippled a desalination plant in the country in December 2014.
However, the crux of the bilateral tie has to be the maritime security and surveillance that both nations will together undertake in a bid to secure the strategic Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The joint statement read how both nations will deliver maritime security through coordinated patrolling and aerial surveillance, exchange of information, and capacity building. Announcement of the joint effort of Maldives and India in combatting piracy, terrorism, organised crime, drugs and human trafficking will reverberate across the region influencing BIMSTEC nations to join the fray as India desires in the first place. And, if not outrightly join, then definitely be influenced to do so. Modi's Majlis speech included the condemning of terrorism and specifically state-sponsored terrorism which he felt was an issue to be best tackled by a global consortium of the international community. Of course, Modi was hinting towards the Easter bombings besides India's own adversity of cross-border terrorism. Modi's visit to Colombo spoke more on that front as he paid his tribute to the victims of the horrific carnage that shocked the island nation on an Easter Sunday. Modi's visits signify interest but they also highlight the fact that these neighbours are valued and it is a collective effort which will ultimately bring down the growing threat of terrorism while allowing India to strategically keep a tap on China. Both these countries have also been under the hand of China who, through subterfuge, took one of the ports of Sri Lanka. Hambantota Port – handed over to China on a lease of 99 years – is strategically important for China as it looks forward to its dream of modern-day silk route both maritime and inland. The dispensations of both Maldives and Sri Lanka have reinstated faith in India after being briefly influenced by Chinese machinations – both countries fell in the Chinese debt trap. As India secures Maldivian interest from Chinese influence, it also realises the Chinese advances that have been made in IOR. India and China are yet to hold Wuhan-styled talks in order to get to the common ground regarding their respective ambitions. The upcoming SCO meet will be dramatically important for both the countries to draw plans for a meet while India will continue with its SAGAR doctrine and 'neighbourhood first' policy, striving to bring all neighbours into the developmental fray. The first chapter has been initiated with visits to island nations in order to achieve that.