Dr Nivedita Ray, Director of Research, ICWA
In an immediate response to Madagascar’s urgent appeal for assistance, to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the South of Madagascar owing to severe drought and famine, India is sending a consignment of 1000 metric tonnes of rice and 100,000 tablets of HCQ. India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar in a phone conversation with the Foreign Minister of Madagascar, Dr. Tehindrazanarivelo Djacoba A.S Oliva, on 1 March 2021 conveyed that India’s humanitarian assistance will be delivered in the coming days. He said that India has always been among the first responders when it comes to assisting the people of Madagascar in similar situations of crisis. Recalling the excellent bilateral ties shared between both countries, he assured that as a maritime Indian Ocean neighbour, Madagascar can always count on the support and solidarity of the Government of India.
In the past, India has always extended a quick helping hand in similar situations. In January 2020 when Cyclone Diane struck Madagascar Indian Navy delivered prompt assistance under Operation Vanilla by INS Airavat. In March 2020, INS Shardul delivered 600 tonnes of rice at the port of Antisiranana, as HADR assistance to Madagascar in dealing with heavy floods in the Northern region of Madagascar. In September 2018, an Indian Naval vessel delivered a consignment of 1000 metric tonnes of rice to Madagascar.
At present, according to the World Food Programme, hundreds of thousands of people of Southern Madagascar are in the grips of a hunger emergency, brought on by three consecutive years of drought, with recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic making it worse. India’s assistance at this juncture is therefore very critical, as it will contribute to building the resilience of the people of Madagascar to withstand the crisis and bounce back.
India’s Naval Ship Jalashwa is expected to deliver the food and medical aids at the Port of Ehoala in Madagascar between March 21 and 24. Such humanitarian outreach was undertaken by the Indian Navy only reinforces India’s credibility as a reliable partner of Madagascar in the hours of crisis. It shows India’s commitment to early HADR responses in the Indian Ocean region. It is also important to note here that along with the consignment, INS Jalashwa will also have an Indian Naval training team on –board, which will be deployed in Madagascar for capacity building and training of the Malagasy Special Forces for two weeks. This is in line with India’s SAGAR policy initiative of maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean region, and its role as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region.
For India, Madagascar’s strategic location in the Western Indian Ocean region makes it an important partner in the maritime context. India started operations of its first listening post on foreign soil in July 2007, in northern Madagascar, with a complete radar surveillance station with high-tech digital communication systems to watch shipping movements. Since then given its strategic significance, India has stepped up its bilateral interactions with Madagascar. In April 2018, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind’s visited Madagascar for the first time, which reinforced ties between the two states. An MoU on Defense Cooperation signed during the visit laid stress on deepening cooperation in areas such as maritime security and safety, fighting piracy and IUU fishing, as well as strengthening cooperation among Indian and Madagascar’s coast guard’s and naval force.
For Madagascar, India represents a security umbrella in the region. It desires to enhance cooperation in the maritime sector through the transfer of Indian expertise to the Malagasy National Navy. It specifically wants to gain from India through capacity building. It considers India as a maritime superpower in the region, and its presence critical for peace and stability in the region.
India’s current assistance to drought-hit Madagascar will be another step towards enhancing India’s Indo- Pacific outreach and influence as both soft power and maritime power.