India is blessed to have a coastline that juts into the world shipping routes. Since ancient times India capitalised on its thousands of kilometers long coastline but the recent incidents in Vizhinjam in Kerala and in Andaman & Nicobar Islands is a reminder that we must protect our shores and ports, aggressively.
Landlocking India: Approximately 90% of the world’s trade is carried out over the waves of ocean. Maritime shipping without an iota of doubt is a huge business. International ships have the propensity to gravitate towards India’s 7510 Km long coastline, 13 major ports and 187 minor ports for the ease of shipping. This is perceived as a threat to many ports across the world. Paucity of ships to India’s ports works in favour of many international entities. Keeping Indian ports marred in controversies and emasculated is as good as turning India into a landlocked country. This affliction to the Indian economy will weaken the democracy called India.
Necklacing Major Indian Cities with radicalized elements from India’s neighboring countries. According to an intel report in 2008, inimical elements were strategizing to settle radicalized elements from other countries in the periphery of major cities in India. This included the ports and coastal cities. The section of illegal immigrants who can be easily radicalised and mobilised against the India during a crisis, are the targets of enemy intelligence agencies. Fifteen years after the report, we have witnessed how the menace of illegal immigrants can transmogrify themselves into a national security threat.
Andamans & Rohingya
On Feb 13th a motorboat named ‘Ma-Babar Doa’ (blessings of parents) with 69 Rohingyas (19 men, 22 women and 28 children) reached Car Nicobar. Ostensibly the occupants claimed that their boat was headed to Indonesia but reached Andaman and Nicobar due to bad weather, and their boat ran out of fuel.
The incident took place a week after the UN Human rights commission report was published that said–“in 2022 alone, nearly 350 Rohingya refugees lost their lives or went missing while attempting dangerous boat journeys across the Andaman Sea & Bay of Bengal”.
A source said– “Occupants of the boat could be right about the boat being headed to Indonesia. Last year in a similar incident India refused to budge under pressure of international organizations to shelter 2 boats with 180 Rohingyas. Indian Navy provided them food and medicines and then towed them to Indonesia. The boat had tried entering Malaysia and India but were allowed to disembark its occupants in Indonesia.”
The incident is true. Last year 2 fishing boats with 180 Rohingyas had indeed reached Indonesia after many countries refused to give them shelter. India faces a genuine problem of illegal immigrants—be it Rohingyas from Myanmar in the east or the Sri Lankans in the south.
Rohingyas have been fleeing Myanmar in thousands since 2016. In India alone there are about 40,000 Rohingyas of which only 50% are registered with UNHCR. The numbers may have surged since the original report was published in 2017.
According to the Indian law an illegal immigrant cannot be classified as a refugee. United Nations’ principles of non-refoulement and impediment to expulsion do not apply in India as India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Bangladesh has absorbed about a million Rohingyas into the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar in the southeastern part of the country. But soon the Bangladesh’s government realized that they had landed themselves in a quandary.
“They have created problems for the living and livelihoods of the local Bangladesh people,” –Sheikh Hasina, PM of Bangladesh said to UN as she requested UN’s help in moving out Rohingyas to an island. Bangladesh has already shipped off 30,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char, a remote island in it’s southeast formed by silt deposition. India has definitely taken a leaf out Bangladesh’s experience.
But this still doesn’t help in whittling down the surging number of illegal immigrants from India’s neighbouring countries where the economies are collapsing or have collapsed. Sri Lanka is an example. Last year a boat with 24 Sri Lankans were arrested from Kerala. The Tamil Nadu Police had traced location of 2 missing tourists, in Kerala. Later it was revealed that the illegal immigrants were planning to move to Canada and Australia in shipping boats from Kochi. Apparently, this global trafficking racket is rampant in southern parts of India.
Illegal immigrants will never become India’s citizens is a reality. This grouse makes them an easy target of inimical elements who might use them against India.
Foreign Interference in Vizhinjam Port
For over a few months Indians were bombarded with the scenes of protests from Kerala. This has probably been India’s most controversial port in recent times, or at least since last 25 years when it was first decided to resuscitate an ancient port from southern India. The Vizhinjam port’s maritime history goes back 2000 years, or more.
The depth of ports in New York, Southampton, Singapore, Dubai, Colombo, Hong Kong is approx. 15 meters, and requires dredging if the depth has to be increased. Vizhinjam port site’s natural depth is 24 m, the port comes with a few more added advantages like it doesn’t need dredging due to its depth (which saves money during construction) and there is no littoral sedimentation, which reduces the effort for maintaining it. Once completed, the port can attract a behemoth share of the container transshipment traffic which is now being diverted to Colombo, Singapore and Dubai.
Viola! That’s enough to cause ripples across the world, in different countries. So why are we surprised this project took 25 years and still hasn’t been completed?
Be it the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi or the Kundankulam nuclear power plant—protests in the past have stalled projects of strategic significance. In fact, protests are an ideal way to push a democracy into a quagmire. The author had posted on it. You can read it here: Destabilizing a Democracy Through Protests
Chinese companies had their hawk eyes on Vizhinjam port’s developments. They almost came very close to winning the tender to develop the port when in 2006 Indian Govt decided to keep Chinese companies away from Indian ports.
In Vizhinjam’s case it’s a bête noire for multiple entities:
India being a democracy, protesting is not against the law. But most of the protestors and arguments against the port vanished into thin air when Intelligence Bureau took up an investigation. According to reports, 10 voluntary organizations will be investigated for foreign funding.
No King Wants to Lose His Crown!
The World Bank says India is expected to be the fastest growing economy of the seven largest emerging-market and developing economies. This can also be interpreted as– India will be a competition for major powers across the world. No king wants to lose his crown!
This is why it is not wrong to assume that interference of foreign entities will surge as India progresses.
India’s vast littoral zones must be aggressively safeguarded, and hawk eyes of India’s intelligence agencies must protect its ports. As far as Human Rights organizations and illegal migrant boats are concerned, India must adopt a policy akin to the one by its allies in middle east. One must ruminate on what a foreign minister from a middle eastern country said about the menace of illegal migration to Europe—you will suffer!
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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