UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will visit India for a two-day visit on April 21. On April 22, he will be in Delhi to hold a formal dialogue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This may seem like a general goodwill gesture, except that it isn’t. Boris Johnson’s India visit has a strong Mauritius connection. Yes, Boris is trying to save an archipelago and he cannot do so without India’s help. So, what is his visit all about? Let’s find out.
The Mauritius connection
It so happens that Mauritius PM Pravind Jugnauth also arrived in Indi for an eight-day visit on April 17. Therefore Boris Johnson’s visit coincides with that of Jugnauth’s.
And probably, it isn’t even a coincidence. It is quite probable that Boris Johnson’s visit to India was deliberately timed to coincide with that of Jugnauth’s because the UK wants New Delhi to exercise its influence with Mauritius and help London save its control over the strategically crucial Chagos Islands.
What is the Chagos Islands dispute all about?
The Chagos Islands dispute is just one of many living examples of British imperialism. Mauritius attained independence in the year 1968. However, the Chagos archipelago remained under British control, despite protests by the archipelago’s inhabitants.
The islanders today accuse London of “illegal occupation” and barring the original inhabitants from access to the archipelago. In 2019, the International Court of Justice too ruled against Britain and stated that the British occupation of the Chagos Islands was illegal.
The Diego Garcia base and strategic interests
What complicates the matter even further is the fact that in 1966, the UK made the Diego Garcia island chain of the Chagos Archipelago available for joint defence production with the United States. The island chain was then called British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
Between 1968 and 1973, the local population of the island was removed and deported to Mauritius. Mauritius never accepted Diego Garcia as British territory and claimed it as its own. However, the UK has ensured that the local islanders could never return to the island chain.
Given the changing dynamics in the Indo-Pacific and Africa’s growing importance in the region, Diego Garcia today becomes strategically crucial for the UK and the US. Presently, the Diego Garcia base serves as a logistical hub, launchpad for air operations and reconnaissance station.
Read more: United Kingdom loses the Chagos Islands to a nation 119 times smaller than it
What does Boris want from India?
Boris Johnson understands that countries in the region, including Mauritius fall within New Delhi’s sphere of influence.
When it comes to Mauritius, India has strong cultural links with the East African country. An overwhelming majority of the population of Mauritius is of Indian origin.
Read more: India built state-of-the-art hospital in Mauritius last year. Now it is saving lives from Coronavirus
And then, there are strong working relations too. India has been consistently extending generous grants and lines of credit to Mauritius. New Delhi plays a pivotal role in development of infrastructure and several other projects in the East African country. Mauritius itself respects India’s benevolent role in the region.
So, there is a lot of influence that India can theoretically exercise in Mauritius. And why will India exercise it? Well, the Western powers- the US and the UK, seem to hope that India will perceive American military presence in the Indian Ocean as a means to counter Chinese influence in the region.
Whether India actually helps the UK or sticks to its principle of supporting decolonization is something that only time will tell. For now, it is totally clear that the UK is at New Delhi’s mercy for saving the Chagos Islands.