India Reiterates ‘Neighbourhood First’ And ‘Sagar’policies

 Prime Minister NarendraModi made his first overseas visit to the Maldives and Sri Lanka overthe weekend; after taking oath as India’s Prime Minister for second term. The visits to the two maritime neighbours reflects India’s foremost priority to the ‘neighbourhood first’ policy and the ‘security and growth for all in the region’ (SAGAR) doctrine.

Despite the focus on ‘neighbourhood first’ policy, Mr.Modi couldnot make a state visit to the Maldives during his first tenure due to the political stalemate in that country, which got over only with the election of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as President in October 2018. In November 2018, the Indian Prime Minister visited the Island-nation to attend President Solih’s oath taking ceremony. By choosing Maldives as the first state visit in his second tenure,the Indian Prime Ministerdemonstrated his government’s intention to work with the Solih administration to enhance and invigorate the traditionally strong India-Maldives relations.

During the two day visit, Prime Minister Modiwas conferred with the Order of Distinguished Rule of Izzudheen, (NishanIzzudheenIzzathugeVerikan).Agreements were exchanged on establishing framework for cooperation in several areas, which include: MoUs in the field of hydrography; health; establishment of passenger and cargo services by sea; cooperation in customs capacity building; training and capacity building programme for Maldivian civil servants; and technical agreement on sharing shipping information between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Prime Minister Modi addressed the People’s Majlis (Parliament) – a privilege that was accorded to a foreign dignitary only once previously in the Majlis’s eighty-six-year history. In his address to the Majlis, Mr.Modispoke of his vision for a democratic, just and equitable world and his desire to see sustainable peace and progress in the Indian Ocean region.

The Indian Prime Minister also met Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, Vice President Faisal Naseem and political leaders including leader of Maumoon Reform Movement’sMaumoon Abdul Gayoom, leader of Jumhooree Party Qasim Ibrahim and leader of Adhaalath Party Imran Abdulla. The discussions were focused to enhance democracy in Maldives and to maintain the ruling coalition.

The visit was symbolic and reflective of the special relationship that India enjoys with Maldives. The visit was considered successful. In the joint statement President Solih reaffirmed his government’s ‘India-First Policy’ and pledged his government’s full support  towards deepening the multifaceted, mutually beneficial partnership between India and the Maldives. He also extended Maldives’ support to India’s candidature for permanent

membership of an expanded and reformed UN Security Council and for India’s candidature for a non-permanent seat for the year 2020-2021.Significant improvement in the India-Maldives bilateral relations is expected.

On his way back to India from Maldives, Prime Minister made a brief stopover in Sri Lanka. During his four hour stay in Colombo,Mr.Modimet with President MaithripalaSirisena, Prime Minister RanilWickremesinghe, several other members of the cabinet, leader of the opposition party MahindaRajapaksa and the Tamil National Alliance leaders. He visited the St. Anthony’sChurch to pay tributes to the victims of the ‘Easter Sunday’ attack.

The main purpose of this short trip was to show solidarity with Sri Lanka, as the country is reeling under the terrible terrorist attacks. Mr.Modiis the first foreign leader to visit the island after the terrible blasts on Easter Sunday. President Sirisena expressed his gratitude to the Indian Prime Minister by saying that the visit would be useful in promoting Sri Lanka’s economic, trade and tourism development. The attack has had a negative impact on Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. It is believed that the visit would give a positive signal to the world about Sri Lanka’s security environment. During bilateral discussions, the Indian Prime Minister and the Sri Lankan President agreed to step up cooperation in the areas of counter-terrorism and extremism.

The visits have signalled Prime Minister Modi’s intention to cooperate with the countries in the neighbourhood to fight terrorism and ensure maritime security.


Script: Dr. Gulbin Sultana,Research Analyst, Idsa