Govt sends aid to Indian Ocean states
India has despatched a warship with two medical teams and medical supplies to help authorities in the Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles combat Covid-19, symbolising the importance attached by New Delhi to its maritime neighbourhood.
The Indian Navy’s INS Kesari, a 5,600-tonne landing ship, was deployed following requests for assistance from the Indian Ocean countries, the external affairs ministry said on Sunday. The warship is carrying consignments of essential medicines and food supplies.
The two medical assistance teams on board will be deployed in Mauritius and Comoros to help their governments deal with the Covid-19 crisis and a dengue fever outbreak in Comoros.
A person familiar with developments said the operation, named Mission Sagar, “implicitly conveys the inclusion of Madagascar and Comoros as part of India’s Indian Ocean vision” and the growing importance of the Indian Ocean region in foreign policy.
“This is the first time a single assistance mission is covering all island countries of the western Indian Ocean,” the person said on condition of anonymity. “It also reflects the contiguity of the government’s Indian Ocean policy.”
INS Kesari will also deliver consignments of Covid-19-related medicines to Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles and 600 tonnes of food supplies to the Maldives. It is also carrying a special consignment of ayurvedic medicines for Mauritius in response to a request made by foreign minister Nandcoomar Bodha to his Indian counterpart.
The consignments for Madagascar and Comoros include hydroxychloroquine tablets. India supplied 50,000 hydroxychloroquine tablets to the Maldives last month and more supplies were also sent to Mauritius and Seychelles.
The Indian Ocean region is now getting the same importance as India’s immediate neighbours, the person cited above said. The Maldives, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Seychelles were among the first countries to receive Covid-19-related aid from India and a team of select medical personnel was sent to Male to augment the preparedness of authorities there to tackle the pandemic. Special flights have carried two consignments of medicines to Sri Lanka.
“This is also the only region where three medical teams have been sent – to the Maldives earlier and now to Mauritius and Comoros. This conveys India’s readiness to deploy manpower and also the confidence in Indian expertise in these countries,” the person said.
“Though all the assistance is request-based, these operations display our readiness and capability to step up even as we have challenges at home, and also cement our status as first responder in any crisis,” the person added.
The Indian Navy has also played a key role in repatriating some 1,000 Indian nationals from the Maldives since last week. The navy deployed two warships to Male to bring them back.
The name of Mission Sagar was inspired by the prime minister’s vision of “Sagar” – Security and Growth for All in the Region. It is also in line with India’s “time-tested role as the first responder in the region”, the external affairs ministry said.
Last month, India activated a currency swap arrangement with the Maldives and said it would provide $150 million to help the country mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. The facility is part of the $400 million currency swap agreement signed in July 2019.
India has also deployed a medical rapid response team to Kuwait and provided hydroxychloroquine tablets to many countries in the neighbourhood as grants.