Think of the biggest strategic blunders that a country that has gained new-found independence from its colonizers can dread to make. And now imagine making them all and yet being dubbed as the modern genius or the architect of modern India. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister has the dubious record of gifting away India’s strategic and crucial landmasses to foreign powers without thinking about the possible repercussions. Nehru’s blunder of gifting Indian land to China and Pakistan have been well documented but what slips under the radar is how he gifted away one of the tactically important Coco Islands to China through the Burmese government and as a result, the current Xi Jinping authoritarian regime has access to an island which by most estimates is used to spy on the Indian forces.
Geographically a part of the Andaman group of islands, Great Coco Island and Little Coco Island are controlled by Myanmar. Situated 1255 km southeast of Kolkata in the Bay of Bengal, the Coco Islands is right in the middle of the important waterway passage through which China connects with the Strait of Malacca to ship oil and gas imports from the Middle East and Africa.
In the 19th century, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were a penal colony of the British Government in India and Coco Island served as a major source of food (coconuts) for it. However, when the Britishers were about to leave the country in 1947, the imperialists, guided by their superiority complex were keen to sabotage the emergence of a strong India. The likes of Mountbatten wanted to retain control over India through some proxy channels and therefore they devised a plan. The chiefs of staff of the British army examined the question of keeping their hold over parts of India, which were not in the mainland.
One of the reports dated June 13, 1947, by the Joint Planning Staff of the British Army reveals the strategy of Britishers and how they wanted to keep these strategic important islands to themselves.
“The Lakshadweep Islands, which are sparsely inhabited coral strips, assume strategic importance from the airport of view if we cannot retain all the facilities we require in India. In such circumstances, they would be essential for our air reinforcement and the support route to Australia, New Zealand and the Far East. British Navy cannot use the islands as they are only open anchorages. If we cannot assume that the successor states in India will give us these facilities then we will have to rely on Ceylon, provided we can exclude the Andaman and Nicobar Islands from the transfer of power,” the report read.
They wanted to ensure that on the day of India‘s Independence, the islands should not become the part of free India, but should be governed by a commissioner under the Governor-General of India till the agreement was reached about their future disposal.
After some informal meetings with Lord Mountbatten, the then viceroy of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, considered this area nothing but a barren land and gave it away to the Britishers who leased it out to the Burmese. And since 1994, it has been revealed in several media reports that the Myanmar government has leased out the Island to the Chinese who have purportedly made it a centre to spy on DRD’s missile programs.
China keeps a keen eye on the efforts of Indian missile launches at all times, whenever India executes any of its activities in the Indian Ocean or the Bay of Bengal, it has Chinese eye.
Greater Coco has for long been known to be managed by Chinese, with reports over two decades of signal intelligence facilities, maritime bases, a radar facility (which is, apparently, all but confirmed) and as a general surveillance hub to keep tabs on Indian military activity.
A military presence in the Coco Islands, if truly established, would give China the edge to monitor India’s naval activities with other powers in the region. It will also affect other regional powers such as Australia and the U.S. and strengthen China’s foothold in the Indian Ocean.
India is gradually militarizing Andaman and Nicobar Islands but wth China in the immediate neighbourhood, it has to be apprehensive and extremely cautious about the activities. All of which could have been avoided if Nehru had taken a pro-India stance.