India is turning its gaze seawards to re-establish itself not simply as a continental power, but even more so as a maritime power, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in Kolkata on Saturday while underscoring the importance of maritime security for economic development of the country.
Contending that there was a "peculiarly intimate relationship between international relations and maritime affairs," Mukherjee said that India is now trying to make up for neglect of this vital area which is also crucial for the country's energy security as most of petroleum products are transported through sea lanes.
"Yet, for far too many centuries of our history has India either neglected or devoted insufficient attention to this relationship," the minister said while delivering Admiral A K Chatterjee Memorial Lecture at Bhasha Bhawan in Kolkata.
"Fortunately, after almost a millennia of inward and landward focus, we are once again turning our gaze outwards and seawards, which is the natural direction of view for a nation seeking to re-establish itself not simply as a continental power, but even more so as a 'maritime' power - and, consequently, as one that is of significance upon the global stage," he said.
In the same breath, the minister, however, added that India has no territorial ambitions and no desire to establish any form of regional or extra-regional hegemony.
Terming maritime diplomacy an essential component of India's 'Look East Policy', Mukherjee said India has concluded bilateral arrangements with Thailand and Indonesia for joint coordinated patrols by the three navies in the Bay of Bengal at the Malacca Straits.
"We are also ready to contribute to capacity building of the Littoral States in maritime security," he said, reiterating that India's cross-border development projects with ASEAN nations have a maritime dimension.
He said the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Facility envisages connectivity between Indian ports on the eastern seaboard and Switte Port in Myanmar, thereby providing an alternate route for transport of goods to northeast India.
Underlining the importance of India's strategic location at the natural junction of the busy international shipping lanes that criss-cross the Indian Ocean, Mukherjee said that this gross neglect of maritime security "eventually led to the colonisation of the subcontinent".
"The realisation that this gross neglect of maritime security eventually led to the colonisation of the subcontinent and the consequent loss of India's very independence for nearly three centuries should make a repetition of this strategic error utterly unaffordable," he said.
Alluding to "strong maritime connectivities" between the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, Mukherjee said that India was "fully alive to this shift and the need to manage it not only in a non-disruptive manner, but in a synergistic one as well".
"Pessimists would look for seeds of conflict or at least balance of power scenarios in this oceanic shift. I for one see it as a potential stabilizer, an enabler of greater prosperity, and as another keystone in the edifice of global interdependence," he said.
"India, with its growing capabilities and confidence, and its history of benign and active international engagement, is ready to contribute its maritime might to ensure such a positive outcome," Mukkherjee added.
"As a mature and responsible maritime power, we are contributing actively to capacity building and operational coordination to address threats from non-state actors, disaster relief, support to UN peacekeeping and rescue and extrication missions," he said.
"We see the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard as major stabilising forces in this great movement of energy across the Indian Ocean, not just for India, but for the world at large," the minister stressed.