SOURCE : TNN
India is losing ground in Seychelles. Two months after India and the Seychelles signed a revised agreement for the building of military infrastructure on Assumption Island, the Seychelles opposition has refused to allow it to be ratified by their parliament.
In his first press conference on Sunday, Seychelles president Danny Faure acknowledged the opposition to the agreement and announced he would not present it to the national assembly in April as planned. He said he had been told that he had been told by the leader of the opposition, Wavel John Charles Ramkalawan and ruling party members that they would not allow the agreement to go through “in its present form”. Faure was in India recently to participate in the inaugural summit of the International Solar Alliance (ISA).
“It is therefore not proper for me to send the agreement to the Speaker when the Leader of the Opposition, who is in majority in the Assembly, has signalled he will not ratify it,” Faure was quoted as saying. Faure refuted the perception of the agreement creating a military base for India on Assumption, saying it was actually a “Seychelles Coast Guard facility.” There has been public protests against India in Seychelles for the past couple of months raising fears that India would appropriate the island .
Ramkalawan was quoted by news agencies as saying, “I hope I have made it clear that this is the end of the Assumption agreement and that I don’t expect to see it on any agenda between President Faure and the opposition.”
In early March, an online leaked version of the agreement created a furore in the Indian Ocean island nation, leading to an official investigation. When questioned, MEA spokesperson said, “Assumption Island Project in Seychelles is a joint project that India is executing at the request of the Government of Seychelles. The objective is to assist Seychelles secure the vast EEZ, including near Mozambique Channel, located over a thousand kilometres from the main island of Mahe. The proposed facility will be owned by Seychelles and jointly managed by both sides.”
The agreement had been signed in 2015 during the visit of PM Modi but it ran into trouble because it had not been ratified by the Seychelles parliament . Faure worked with the opposition and after including several amendments, cleared it with his cabinet on January 22. The agreement is very important for India, as it works hard to mark a military presence on both Seychelles and Mauritius (Agalega island), in its drive to extend its strategic footprint in the Indian Ocean.
Interestingly, India had invited the Indian-origin opposition leader Ramkalawan to India to build political ties with his party. Those conversations had been important in building the consensus to clear the revised agreement. But Ramkalawan this week refused to let the pact go through. India will have to work harder to win support for the plan, particularly as China too is finding its feet in this country, with deeper pockets.