Indian Stakes in Indian Ocean

Strategic Initiation of 3rd Line of Defence for India

There were times, when a sea was considered a barrier and countries derived
naive security from oceans bodies. Indian seafarers always considered oceans
as bridge between countries. In 10th to 13th century, the Cholas influence
encompassed South East Asia. Sri Vijaya Empire in today’s Malaysia, Singapore,
Brunei and Indonesia and the Khamboj Empire of Cambodia were the result of the
seafaring activities by Chola empire builders, who projected their soft power to
distant lands. The influence was so widespread and benign that a road ‘Jalan Raja
Chulan’ is named after King Rajaraja Chola in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to this day. The
capital of Brunei is Bandar Seri Begawan is also a distorted version of Sanskrit version
of ‘Abode of Sri Bhagwan’. Lord Vishnu’s temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia is also
an evidence for spread of Chola influence: Also, do not forget the island of Bali that
virtually has preserved its ‘Hindu cultural and religious heritage’ standing as a last
bastion of Hindu identity, when Islamisation deluged thousands of Indonesian
islands and the neighbouring countries of Malaysia and Brunei. In this region of the
world, the Islamization took roots peacefully without the elements of violence, which
otherwise is a characteristic of such mass conversions. The Hindu empires, which held
their sway for a thousand years and later the Islamisation of the region could take
place due to spread of Chola and Arabic influences through the medium of sea. Hence
huge water bodies of sea and oceans are bridges that bind the planet into one whole.
Though the Indians used the sea to spread its influence and carry out trade to distant
lands, they did not envisage it as avenues of threat. Indian history is always replete
with instances of how foreign forces invaded; such as Greeks, Huns, and Mohd
Ghori, raids by Mohd Ghazni followed by the Turks, Mughals, Persians and Afghans
to vindicate the requirement of secure land borders. Later the Chinese offensives
both from the North and North East reinforces our thought process of land centric
threats facing the country. Even now, we are concerned about the offensives from
land frontiers, where we are preparing for a two and a half front war with simultaneous
offensives by China and Pakistan and the externally supported insurgency and
terrorism fulminating internally. The situation portrayed; no doubt needs deliberate
consideration, however the threat can be overcome and the war can be won by intelligent
use of all the three services operating in conjunction with other elements of national power.
It no doubt; needs strong land forces as the land can only be held and occupied by boots
on the ground. No technology can hold ground, as has been proved beyond doubt in the
unending US war in Afghanistan for the past 16 years with President Trump further giving an impetus to enhance ground force levels in the restive country.
In India, we rarely talk of the Portuguese, Dutch, British and French, came to our soil
from seas. Interestingly, they could come only after the decline of Chola’s Naval Power
in the 14th century. Chatrapati Shivaji also raised a Navy in mid-17th Century, which no
doubt played havoc against Portuguese and British Navies, however one has to agree
that the ‘Maratha Navy’ was basically a ‘Coastal Navy’ that too; ‘a dark brown water
navy’ with no bluish tinge in its capabilities. We finally lost our independence, when
we lost our command over the seas. No other Indian Raja of the various coastal states
ever had a navy worth its name except probably the Zamorin of Calicut who had a
small naval fleet. This gave a field time to the European Powers to come and colonise
our country. In 1741 the Dutch Marine forces sailed from Ceylon and lost decisively to
Travancore State Forces of Raja Marthanda Verma in the land battle at Colachel that
virtually ended the Dutch aspirations in India. Due to our lack of sea power, we could
not prevent its landing but managed to win the land battle. Thereafter the British
ruled the waves and established an empire, where the sun never set. It was possible
for them, as they were a naval power.
Our strategy for a two and half front war needs to be drawn with ocean as prime focus.
Then; what do we do far a country that has not formulated its ‘National Security Strategy’
in the last seven decades, since our independence? It is this strategy that empowers
us to optimize all elements of National power and orchestrate to achieve our
National Security Objectives. Strangling of Pakistan from the seas and cutting of energy
and trade routes to China from the Indian Ocean is adequate to get a favourable
victory on the land frontiers in the envisaged two and an half front war. Our ability to
choke all the entry points into the Indian Ocean; the Straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombak
and Timor Sea would give us the capabilities to choke the Chinese trade. It would
result in domestic glut of manufacturing goods, overfilled warehouses and large scale
retrenchment of labour causing serious internal strife. China’s obsession of ‘ Communist
Party’s control over the nation is enough to see its red lines much before such a
situation could occur. Internal dissent is the ‘Achilles Heels’ of China and it is hypersensitive
to such a situation, however remote the probability of its occurrence. The
ridiculous Chinese constitution that empowers the ‘Chinese Communist Party’(CPC)
to own the ‘People’s Republic of China’(PRC) entailing the entire population to be
the members of CPC is very difficult to comprehend to a civilised world but has been
made into an artificial and enforced reality in China. This weakness of China has to be
exploited by Indian in its two and half front war strategy.
It is not necessary to implement the strategy as we need friendly relations with all in our neighbourhood. India just need to develop capabilities to empower ourselves to
execute the strategy. Such capabilities are enough to prevent a war and ensure the
safety of our land and sea frontiers: Strength deters wars and weakness invites it.
These capabilities take decades to build and the earlier we take a decision; the better
it is for our country.
India’s dependence on Indian Ocean is overwhelming. 90% of our trade by volume
and 90% of our oil imports are carried on the seas. The SAGAR initiative is for security
and growth for all in the region. There are 21 countries in the Indian Ocean Rim Association(IORA) and India need to knit them together so that all the countries together
maintain peace and harmony in the Indian Ocean Region. India need to actively promote
this association to ensure that these countries do not give their territories as
foreign bases to big powers. Already US, UK, France and China have made bases in
the Indian Ocean. They are security concerns to the countries of the region. Ideally
the Indian Ocean Rim Countries should ensure all the countries of the world have
freedom of navigation and trade in the Indian Ocean with IOR Countries being the net
security provider to all the ships, which are traversing the Indian Ocean. Providing
logistic support to all ships traversing the Indian Ocean and trading with them will ensure
mutual prosperity of the region. India should initiate Annual Naval Exercise with
all countries of the IORA to ensure inter-operability and coordination to rise to be the
net security provider to all shipping traversing the Indian Ocean. All the countries of
IORA have high stakes in the Indian Ocean and India with likeminded countries like
Australia, Indonesia, Iran and South Africa have to provide the lead.
Pandit Nehru had said prophetically “To be secure on land; we must be supreme at Sea”.
It is sad indeed that he could not implement his own wisdom on national security and
neglected the Armed Forces severely, demolishing his vision of India with dreams broken
and pride shattered at the time of his death. It is time we achieve the vision of
SAGAR to all the countries of the region.

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