Indian Ocean, simply on the basis of the name, is often erroneously considered by many to be India’s backyard… an area where the Indian influence should ideally run supreme even if it may not be the case at this moment. Events in Malé the capital of the, 298 square KM big, Republic of Maldives in the Indian Ocean have shown that India does not have much say in what happens there. India for the moment says it is monitoring the situation very closely.
The name Indian Ocean has probably been in use for some 6 or 7 hundred years. When Vasco Da Gama the first European to ship in to India crossed this body of water he had no known name for it so he may have just called it a Mar Índico that is sea of India or Oceano Índico — the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch, the French and the English and the name they used for the ocean one crossed to get to India became the Indian Ocean.
That is India’s claim to be miffed at undemocratic goings on in Maldives because it is a chain of 26 atolls on an ocean which maybe the smallest of all those available but is irrevocably named after India. It is not that India’s neighbours — near and far, have not had a problem with the name. Pakistan had raised the issue from time to time even suggesting that the Indian Ocean could be named Afro Asian Ocean. In 1963 there were reports about President Sukarno wanting to call it the Indonesian Ocean.
In the olden days of trade control of sea routes and dominance over seas and oceans meant great political and economic power. The small island kingdom of Britain could add an arrogant prefix to its name and greatly justify it because it controlled the seas practically all over the world. The Spanish were great till that Armada fiasco and the Union Jack took over…a flag that technically should still be flying over Diego Garcia.
It is very difficult to go about checking flags at Diego Garcia atoll on the southernmost tip of the Chagos Archipelago 1600 kilometres south of the southernmost tip of the Indian mainland. The US leased Diego Garcia from the UK and it is said to be a Guantanamo Bay type military installation and airbase that the USA runs out of the Indian Ocean. The US and UK are said to run a joint naval base there as well.
So much for India’s backyard, even China which has its own noodles to steam told India to lay off thinking about sending jackboots on the ground to untangle the Maldivian crisis of democracy. What right has China to give such suggestions? Some people might even indulge in whataboutery asking how would China like India telling China to back off on claiming the South China Seas as its own area of dominance.
China for all practical purposes would be upset and it is because there are reports that that is what India is doing…not alone but along with the chums the US, Japan and Australia. The four nations wanting to keep South China Seas from China are being called the Quad . The latest reports surfacing are those of a possibility that the Quad might hold joint naval exercises in the region.
No wonder China is wagging its fingers at India telling it to avoid going all macho over Malé like it did 30 years ago. That time, in 1988, India had sent troops to counter a coup and save democracy no one found it objectionable.
Ironically 3 decades later with India being militarily and economically a far superior beast everyone seems concerned about India meddling in affairs of the Indian Ocean. And Malé is happy to say Boooooooo!