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Did ‘godi media’ allow a face-saver for PM Modi on Seychelles’ naval base?

A PTI report on Monday claimed that Seychelles President and PM Modi had agreed on developing a joint naval base on Assumption Island. The Indian Navy said it wasn’t aware of any such development

The Indian Navy has denied news reports about Seychelles and India jointly developing a naval base on the Assumption Island, saying that it wasn’t aware of any such project.

“I am not aware (of it),” Indian Navy’s official spokesperson Captain DK Sharma told National Herald, when asked if Seychelles had finally agreed to let India collaborate with it on a naval base on the Assumption Island.

The deal for the project was signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Indian Ocean country in 2015. The deal had been sold off as a foreign policy achievement of the Modi government in its ongoing strategic rivalry against China.

Initially keen to work with India, Seychelles went back on its commitment after the deal faced opposition in the country’s opposition-controlled Parliament, which swept the polls a year later in 2015.

A backer of the deal, Seychelles President Danny Faure, who is on a five-day visit to India and met PM Modi in New Delhi on Monday, has maintained that the naval base project couldn’t go through due to domestic concerns.

In their joint press statement after the two leaders met yesterday, both PM Modi and President Faure mentioned the Assumption Island project, stating that mutual interests would be respected.

“We have agreed to work together on Assumption Island project based on each other’s rights,” PM Modi said during his statement, not elaborating on it any further.

The statement of his Seychelles counterpart, President Danny Faure, revealed as much as it hid, as he said, “Assumption Island project was discussed, we are equally engaged and will work together bearing each other’s interests.”

Soon after the joint statement concluded, Press Trust of India reported that “India and Seychelles today agreed to work together on a project to develop a naval base at the Assumption Island keeping each other’s concerns in mind after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Danny Faure.”

Clearing the air around the news report, maritime analyst at New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Abhijit Singh, told NH that he believed that Seychelles was only enlisting India’s help in developing a coast guard facility on the Assumption Island.

“There is a significant opposition to Indian presence in Seychelles’ political leadership. We are not developing a naval base together. As far as I can figure out, there won’t be any Indian defence personnel on the Assumption Island,” said Singh, who heads the Maritime Policy Initiative at ORF.

Singh noted that Seychelles, much like other small island nations in the Indian Ocean, didn’t want to get caught in the India-China rivalry.

“India was also looking to install some surveillance facilities on the Assumption Island base. This would have meant some radar stations, automatic information system chains, etc, all of which would have given us some idea of the tactical picture around the islands,” said Singh.

He added, “We would have come to know about the movement of Chinese ships, particularly the warships, in the Indian Ocean through that base. This all would have meant that Seychelles was helping India in carrying out maritime surveillance of Chinese assets in the region, which worried many in Seychelles’ political establishment.”

NH has contacted the Seychelles’ High Commission in New Delhi for a comment. The story will be updated with the responses as soon as they are in.