The High Commissioner of India is leaving Mauritius for Nigeria next week «with mixed feelings». Commenting the jetty project in Agalega, Abhay Thakur replies to those who criticise its lack of transparency. He also tells us more about «the age-old ties» between India and Mauritius.
Are you sad to leave Mauritius and not be able to witness the Metro Express project nearing completion?
I leave Mauritius with mixed feelings, firstly with a sense of genuine accomplishment, but also a sense that more hard work still lies ahead in our relations with Mauritius. I also leave this country with a sense of anticipation for my next assignment as High Commissioner to Nigeria, largest African country by economy and population, located in the heart of Africa.
Not only Phase I of the Metro Express, but also the new Supreme Court, the new ENT hospital and the Social Housing project are expected to reach completion in 2019/2020. Thereafter the Phase II of Metro Express and our infrastructure development project in Agalega are due for completion in late 2020/early 2021. I would have been glad to personally witness all these projects reach fruition, but having seen their successful start and ongoing implementation on schedule, and after a productive two and a half years, it is almost time to move on. All Government of India (GoI) assisted projects in Mauritius are well on track, and shall continue to remain a high priority for GoI and for my successor.
Let me emphasize here that built upon the foundations of deep civilizational linkages based on kinship and culture, our relations with Mauritius are on an upswing. India’s twin focus in its foreign policy matrix, one on the Indo-Pacific region and the second on Africa, with Mauritius enjoying the pride of place in both, are adding greater substance and centrality to our bilateral relations. I was privileged to serve in Mauritius, a beautiful country with friendly, easygoing people, where I was able to combine work with some wonderful leisure time.
During your time in Mauritius, what are your main accomplishments?
Following the historic visit of Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi in 2015, our bilateral relations with Mauritius reached unprecedented heights. As I have said, various GoI assisted projects namely the Metro Express, the new Supreme Court Building, a new ENT Hospital, and Social Housing are under implementation. Moreover, the Civil Service College Project as well as projects for development of a jetty for NCG at Port Louis and for development of a jetty and an airstrip in Agalega are under implementation.
During the last three years, we have had a series of high level exchanges. Our Defence Minister visited Mauritius in December 2016, when the CGS Victory and two Chetak helicopters were commissioned. Prime Minister Hon. Pravind Jugnauth paid a State visit to India in May 2017, which was his first visit abroad after assuming the office of Prime Minister of Mauritius. Agreements on the Civil Service College project, a new 500 million Line of Credit on concessional terms and on maritime security cooperation were signed during Prime Minister Jugnauth’s visit. The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and our Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises were Guests of Honour at the Aapravasi Divas 2017, followed by a four-party Bihar Assembly delegation for Aapravasi Divas 2018. The President of India Hon’ble Shri Ram Nath Kovind visited Mauritius in March 2018 as the Chief Guest for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Mauritian Independence. During his visit, four important documents, on cooperation in Ayurveda, Cultural Exchange Programme, cooperation between the two Public Service Commissions and on Nalanda University were signed, the World Hindi Secretariat building was inaugurated and the E-tablet project was inaugurated. The 11th World Hindi Conference was successfully held in Mauritius in August 2018 for which Hon’ble External Affairs Minster of India, Smt Sushma Swaraj, visited Mauritius along with four Ministers and Governors of two Indian states.
The special carve out in our OCI card scheme for Mauritius, to cover all Mauritians of Indian origin regardless of how many generations ago their ancestors arrived in Mauritius, as well as their spouses, went into effect in March 2017. Thousands of Mauritians have obtained OCI cards since then. On CECPA (Ed.’s Note: Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement), seven rounds of talks have been held in the last two years, and its text is nearly finalized. It covers trade in goods and services as well as large business linkages, and its signature will help usher in a new era of closer trade-economic cooperation between our private sectors and businesses looking to reach out to Africa.
We are honoured that Prime Minister Hon. Pravind Kumar Jugnauth has accepted our invitation to attend the next Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) at Varanasi in January 2019 as the Chief Guest. We also look forward to the active participation by hundreds of Mauritians at the PBD.
A lot of criticisms have been aired on the Indian involvement in Agalega. Don’t you think that Mauritians need some more transparency on this project? What are the chances that the Maritime Security Agreement between India and Mauritius be made public? External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, during her visit in Mauritius, said that India has no issue to disclose the agreement. Does that mean that it is the Mauritian government that has chosen not to publicize the deal?
Project Agalega envisages development of a jetty and an airstrip on the outer island, which will improve connectivity and facilitate economic development of the island as well as enhance our maritime security cooperation, without affecting Mauritian sovereignty or freedom of movement. It is a win-win collaboration to our mutual benefit.
All agreements between Mauritius and India are transparent, and India has never entered into any clandestine agreement with Mauritius, irrespective of the Government in power in Mauritius. At the same time, any disclosure of agreements is also based on considerations such as protection of intellectual property and designs, commercial confidentiality, safety and security of major installations and any other objective criteria. Subject to these considerations, all relevant information on bilateral agreements, be it the Metro Express or the Line of Credit or Project Agalega, has been furnished and thoroughly debated on the floor of the Mauritian National Assembly over the last two years. I would also like to emphasize that intellectual, commercial or safety considerations are vital and cannot be overlooked in the name of transparency. And from the angle of foreign affairs, such disclosure cannot be sought selectively for one country or for one project alone. I would add that any statement that the Government of India is willing to disclose bilateral agreements on GoI-assisted projects, whereas the Government of Mauritius is not willing to do so, is factually incorrect.
The Metro Express project has been a long awaited project. In 2014, the Lepep Team asked the Indian PM not to go ahead with the Metro Project. What are the similarities and differences between the two projects?
All I can say is that the current Metro Express project, for which GoI is providing financial assistance to the tune of USD 550 million under a Grant-Loan combination, is being implemented by L&T, India’s leading engineering conglomerate, with technical oversight by RITES, our public sector consultant. As regards comparison with other or earlier projects, this is a question you can ask the Government of Mauritius.
Sushma Swaraj held talks with both Pravind Jugnauth and Navin Ramgoolam. Does that imply that India would wish a ‘cease fire’ between the Jugnauths and Ramgoolam?
Our interactions with senior leaders of Mauritius should not be seen through the local political prism and no local political undertones should be ascribed to them. In cooperation and in partnership with the Government of Mauritius and leading Mauritian institutions, Government of India continues to engage with, and work towards the benefit of all sections of the Mauritian society, with the objective of further strengthening the age-old ties between our two countries and peoples.
The US and India have made meaningful progress advancing bilateral defence cooperation over the past year. What does that imply for the Indian Ocean region in general, and for the Diego Garcia military base in particular? Mattis stressed the inaugural US-India “2+2” Ministerial Dialogue, which was held in September in New Delhi, “made clear our commitment to further bolster our major defence partnership.”
Peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region is an important foreign policy objective for India. In fact this is a shared regional objective, and we work towards it together with major powers, regional countries and relevant multilateral organizations.
Mauritius ambitions as a financial centre involve both India and China playing big parts of our future. We want to deepen the existing ties to India while cultivating new ones with China. On the other hand, relations with New Delhi and Beijing appear to be pulling Mauritius in different directions.
In the words of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Hon. Pravind Jugnauth, India-Mauritius relations are not only special, but ‘super special’. Relations between India and Mauritius are based on deep mutual trust and mutual respect, and are naturally aligned to their national interests in their respective democratic frameworks. Here, it is pertinent to recall that it was during his visit to Mauritius in March 2015 that Prime Minister Shri Modi enunciated the vision of Security and Growth For All (SAGAR), that called for shared economic growth and security for all countries of the Indian Ocean region.