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How are relations between India and Mauritius? Know history and significance

Recently, PM Modi and his Mauritian counterpart Pravind Kumar Jugnauth inaugurated a new airstrip and jetty along with other projects in the Agalega Islands, underscoring India's SAGAR vision. President Murmu is currently in Mauritius to attend National Day celebrations as Chief Guest.

Written By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Port Louis (Mauritius) Updated on: March 12, 2024 14:54 IST
India Maldives relations, President Murmu, Mauritius visit
Image Source : PTI President Murmu paying homage to former Mauritius PM Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and former president Anerood Jugnauth in Port Louis.

President Droupadi Murmu has embarked on a three-day official visit to Mauritius, the sixth Indian president to do so, and has been invited as the Chief Guest for Mauritius National Day celebrations. During her visit, President Murmu held bilateral meetings with Mauritian President Prithvirajsing Roopun and PM Pravind Kumar Jugnauth and most importantly, announced that India will grant an Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card to the 7th generation of Indian-origin people in Mauritius.

The visit underscores the longstanding and enduring ties between India and Mauritius, who established diplomatic relations in 1948 and have become key trading partners in the Asian continent. Mauritius has been an important partner for India's strategic interests while New Delhi has helped Port Louis with several development projects.

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually inaugurated a new airstrip, jetty and six other India-assisted development projects in Agalega, Mauritius along with his Mauritian counterpart Pravind Jugnauth. The Indian leader said India and Mauritius are natural partners in the maritime domain to combat traditional and non-traditional challenges in the Indian Ocean region. Notably, the Agalega Islands, a two-island territory located 1,100 km to the north of Port Louis, are crucial to India's maritime vision.

Jugnauth thanked his Indian counterpart for providing a new dimension to ties between the two countries. "This event marks another great moment for the remarkable and exemplary partnership between Mauritius and India," the Mauritian leader said. He expressed gratitude to PM Modi for the special consideration that he has given to Mauritius since he assumed the responsibility as India's Prime Minister.

India-Mauritius relations: A brief history

Although India and Mauritius formally established diplomatic relations in 1948, their shared history and connections go as far back as 1730 through successive Dutch, French and British occupation. Indian workers came to Mauritius as indentured labourers to work on sugar plantations under colonial rule. November 2 is celebrated in Mauritius as 'Aapravasi Day' when the first batch of Indian indentured labourers came to the African country.

A brief stopover by Mahatma Gandhi en route to India from South Africa (October 29 to November 15, 1901), while awaiting the departure of his ship SS Nowshera is also remembered fondly in Mauritius. After establishing diplomatic ties, both countries saw several significant high-level visits from the representatives of each country.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Mauritius' first PM after independence in 1968, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam accorded centrality to India in the Mauritian foreign policy and successive leaders ensured that India occupied a position of significance in the foreign policy orientation of Mauritius. Since then, India has become the largest trading partner of Mauritius, along with the largest exporter of goods. India’s exports to Mauritius are largely of petroleum products.

India-Mauritius partnership

India has extended support to Mauritius in enhancing its coastal surveillance capabilities by setting up the Coastal Surveillance Radar System (CSRS) in 2011 and in the realm of pharmaceuticals by supplying 1 lakh vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mauritius has also been the largest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) equity flow to India. Several Indian-assisted projects include the Upadhyay Training Centre, the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital and the Subramania Bharati Eye Centre. 

Both countries have signed several bilateral agreements spanning trade, investment, terrorism and environment. In May 2016, India extended a grant of $353 mn to Mauritius as a Special Economic Package (SEP) to execute five priority projects identified by Mauritius, among others: Metro Express Project; the Supreme court building; and New ENT Hospital. A watershed moment came when the free trade pact titled 'Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement' (CECPA) was signed during External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar's visit in 2021 - a first-of-a-kind agreement under negotiation since 2005.

PM Modi visited Mauritius in 2015 and 2019, followed by a visit by Jugnauth to India in 2022. In the same ear, PM Modi and Jugnauth jointly inaugurated the Social Housing Units Project in Mauritius. In 2019, Prime Minister Modi and his Mauritian counterpart Jugnauth jointly inaugurated the Metro Express project and the New ENT Hospital in Mauritius in virtual mode. Likewise, in July 2020, the new Supreme Court Building of Mauritius was also inaugurated virtually by the two Prime Ministers. 

In 2023, India, and Mauritius celebrated 75 years of diplomatic relations. “I think in itself, it is a milestone that needs to be celebrated and also a testimony of how this relationship has been strengthening throughout the years so that we have reached a situation today where I can say that never before has this relationship reached such heights,” Jugnauth said.

Significance of India-Mauritius ties

A key facet of the growing India-Mauritius relations is that nearly 70 per cent of the 1.2 million population of the African nation consists of Indian-origin people, which has helped foster strong cultural relations between the two countries. India-built institutions, such as the Indira Gandhi Centre for Indian Culture and the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, have contributed to the spread of Indian culture through educational and training activities.

During his first visit to Mauritius in 2015, Prime Minister Modi called for Mauritius-India cooperation to make the Indian Ocean safe, secure and free from any challenge and articulated his vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for all). Since then the two countries have signed numerous agreements in trade, investment, defence and cultural cooperation.

Mauritius has also supported India's bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. India has also supported Mauritian claims over sovereignty on the Chagos Islands, which were kept by the United Kingdom long after the country gained independence. The two countries have also collaborated on several regional and international forums.

Mauritius has also been an important source of investment for India, particularly in the areas of finance, real estate, healthcare and education. Based on shared interests, the already-strong relations between India and Mauritius have continued to strengthen over the years. However, Mauritius has not been immune to Chinese overtures in Africa and the Indian Ocean Region, with the signing of a free trade agreement between Beijing and Port Louis in 2021. 

However, the recent projects inaugurated by PM Modi and Jugnauth indicate that India is still the first priority of Mauritius. The new airstrip and jetty not only enhance the goodwill and trust between the two partners, they also underscore India’s commitment to its SAFAR vision and its aim to assist smaller countries in development capabilities. 

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