Foreign Affairs. Geopolitics. National Security.

The Doctrine of Maritime Security in India and its History

Sanjeev Sudarshan
Sat, 06 Nov 2021   |  Reading Time: 4 minutes

One must understand, when territorial sovereignty and integrity comes into picture it does not simply refer to protecting our frontiers on land but also on the water bodies that surround the peninsular region of India. This raises a huge issue of maritime security doctrine that India has to formulate due to increase of China’s footprint in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

India has a vast maritime history which goes unread most number of times and also the officials have put in efforts to connect our past with our present for a better tomorrow. INS Angre a “stone frigate “ in the Indian Navy in Mumbai is named after a Maratha Admiral Kanhoji Angre, famous for attacking and capturing European merchant ships and their crews. Further ahead I have also spoken about the Chola dynasty king ( Rajendra Chola I). The periplus of Erythrean sea and stories of Kaundinya and Pallava king Nandivarman II explain the connection of India to Cambodia.

Just like the presence of dragon being fictitious in 1421 and 1431 books authored by a London writer Gavin Menzies about Chinese history of maritime proves that how China works to transform fiction into history. The medieval kings and sailors of India have also left back a pictorial evidence of what can be called ‘ medieval graffiti’ on the Islands of Socotra, seafarers left their etched symbol on the caves on the island what they called “Sukh Dhara” considering the presence of spring freshwater there. Apart from this we also have rituals like “Boita Bandana” the Odia ceremony of sanctifying boats, Narali Purnima( Maharashtrian celebration involving coconuts and full moon night) indicate the awareness of weather and monsoon guided commencement of sea voyages.

The state of Kalinga dominated maritime even before Greek navigator Hippalus discovered monsoon, King of Kalinga refers to the monsoon as lord of oceans in Kalidasa’s-Raghuvamsa, the congruency of these rituals is seen in Bali a ritual called “Masakapam Kepesih” is observed by floating small boats with burning candles denoting the return of sailors back to Kalinga. This suggests the narratives around which India’s maritime security can be built upon to counter China’s expansionist policies.

The wolf war doctrine of China is posing to be a threat in the global front in various angles, of late it has taken various miscalculated steps to harm the territorial sovereignty of India, these moves have not only proven to be nothing but a failure but also has resulted in the loss of brave hearts of the personnel of Indian forces. As they realized that they cannot obviously defeat India in conventional warfare they took up to cyber warfare( Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant) to disrupt the cyberspace, VirusTotal ,a virus scanning website owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has indicated that a large amount of data has been stolen from the KKNPP’s administrative network.

China not only posed a threat to India but also has been violating the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea) by drawing out its own nine dash line. Recent development in geopolitics with respect to India and China has taken a new twist what can be referred to as “Doctrine of Shipwreck Archeology”. According to this doctrine they conduct deep sea excavations to find Chinese artefact materials to culturally connect India and China, this can prove to be one of their expansionist policies to destroy the elephant.

To begin with the challenges India faces on the aquatic frontiers Silos Approach in the Indian Ocean. India’s political class has divided India into many sub-regions. Traditionally, India draws a line with Mauritius and Seychelles as its areas of strategic collaboration in the Indian Ocean. In terms of sub-regions, the priority is the northern (Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal), and eastern Indian ocean (The Andaman seas and Straits of Malacca where almost 82% of Chinese trade takes place). Due to this, the western Indian Ocean and the eastern coast of Africa still continue to be in the maritime periphery in India’s foreign policy.

August 2021 India holds the presidency of UNSC and the UN permanent representative T.S. Tirumurti stressed on “ MARITIME security , counter-terrorism and global peace”. Rightfully said, India still does not have a strong maritime security doctrine, there is a lesser hold on strategic choke points China’s first overseas military base was set up in western Indian Ocean, in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Russia too has acquired a base in Sudan, on the Red Sea coast, between Suez Canal and Bab-el-Mandab-a strategic chokepoint in Indian Ocean.

However, beyond the anti-piracy mission, India’s presence and maritime engagements with the African coasts have been barely ad hoc. India’s re-orientation towards toward maritime domain has not been easy, with generations of foreign and defense service officials focusing and training on continental issues. Further, the Indian Navy is allotted approximately 14% of the defense budget speaks clearly to defense establishments priorities.

Further ahead synchronizing foreign and defense policies, with the establishment of the Indian Ocean division in the the Ministry of external affairs(MEA) in 2016, MEA appears to be taking a more active approach. Nipping the bud is very important with respect to Chinese expansionist policy and to prevent even the stemming of their new approach of “Doctrine of Shipwreck Archeology” the government has come up with development of “Maritime History Society” which came into existence on 12 May 1978, by then Rear Admiral M.P. Awati. It began with releasing a series of books called the Kutch diaries which imparts wisdom of maritime history. Since India does not have one particular counter narrative in the maritime domain the current government has come up with the development of this society.  The study on this came into existence when the Lothal sites were excavated and three types of boats were found on them -reed boat, flat-bottom wooden plank boat and a dhow which is still in use, thus contradicting China.  We had established our own maritime security ever since medieval times and has always been a responsible power, for example when Rajendra Chola I looted Srivijaya (in Indonesia) plainly for economic benefits and not even remotely expansionist. Collaborating with important players is the need of the hour. QUAD seems to be a holistic solution to focus on the Indo-Pacific region.

In a nutshell, while this is not to discount India’s continental troubles, seen in recent crises such as Doklam and Ladakh, there is a need to understand the importance of maritime geography and its link to India’s strategic interests and growing competition in the region.


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