Lakshadweep, a picturesque archipelago of 36 islands, is situated off the southwestern coast of India in the azure waters of the Arabian Sea. Despite its natural beauty and strategic location, this Union Territory remains largely undiscovered and underdeveloped.

But is that all there is to Lakshadweep?

This article explores the potential of Lakshadweep as a tourism hub and its significance as a military base in the Indian Ocean region and how with prudent policymaking and strong safeguards put in place, Lakshadweep can fully harness its potential.

Economy of Lakshadweep and Tourism Powerhouse

Lakshadweep is geographically well-positioned to forge commercial and tourism alliances with the Middle East and East Africa in terms of economics. 

Lakshadweep’s position facilitates trade and business alliances with neighbouring nations. The islands can act as a centre for the shipment of goods and cargo between East Africa and India. Plans for transhipment ports and improved air and sea connectivity with neighbouring regions can boost the local economy of Lakshadweep. Its strategic position astride major trade routes, enabling the flow of international trade and traffic and substantially benefiting the islands. The islands can attract high-end tourists from the Middle East looking for a tropical getaway in a Muslim-majority destination. 

Lakshadweep’s pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and abundant marine life make it an ideal destination for tourists seeking a serene and unspoiled getaway. Developing the islands as a tourism base could bring significant economic benefits to India and the local population. Their natural beauty and seclusion give Lakshadweep a lot of potential for resort tourism. To achieve success on this front, India needs to invest in the necessary infrastructure and promote sustainable tourism practices in Lakshadweep. This includes improving connectivity to the islands, developing eco-friendly resorts, and promoting water sports and adventure tourism. By doing so, India can tap into the growing global demand for experiential and sustainable travel, while preserving the islands’ unique ecology and culture.

An Undefeated Military Vantage Point

Militarily, Lakshadweep’s location makes it an important strategic outpost for India to project power into the Indian Ocean region.

The islands lie close to major sea lanes of communication, which are vital for global trade and energy supplies. The islands are located close to major international shipping routes that transit the Arabian Sea and pass by the coastlines of Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Horn of Africa. The archipelago’s proximity to the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa provides India with a vantage point to counter potential threats from hostile nations and non-state actors. The location also allows India to closely track the movement of other foreign naval forces, especially Chinese warships, entering the Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy has a presence in Lakshadweep, including naval air stations, to conduct regional surveillance and monitoring operations. But to achieve immense dominance over this region India has to upgrade its military involvement in this region.

There is potential for India to develop dual-use facilities in Lakshadweep for military and civilian purposes. Airfields and naval jetties on the islands can be upgraded to accommodate more traffic and larger aircraft. Helipads can enable the quick movement of personnel and equipment across islands. Most islands already have accommodation, storage, and logistical facilities which the navy uses during training and patrols. These facilities can serve tourism and military needs alike, with most infrastructure development funding coming from the growing tourism industry.

In recent years, India has been strengthening its maritime security posture through initiatives such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). Developing a military base in Lakshadweep would further bolster India’s role as a regional net security provider and contribute to a rules-based international order.

Lakshadweep Development Plan

Lakshadweep’s underdeveloped status is both a benefit and a bother. As of now, the islands are mostly untouched and proudly bearing their natural habitat. Development projects birth the risk of environmental damage. That’s why in 2021 a series of development projects faced backlash from the locals as well as environmental activists all over the nation.

But, the here question arises, do we stop the progress altogether? And also, what would be the fate of these islands if left unattended?

The lack of development and limited governance in Lakshadweep could make the islands vulnerable to exploitation by terror organizations and drug cartels. Lightly inhabited and remote islands often become breeding grounds for illegal activities, as they provide a haven for criminals to operate with relative impunity. Terror organizations could potentially use the islands as a base for launching attacks on India’s mainland or other countries in the region. Similarly, drug cartels could exploit the archipelago’s strategic location to establish a transit point for smuggling narcotics between the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.

To mitigate these risks, India must invest in the development of Lakshadweep and strengthen its security apparatus in the region. This includes enhancing the capacity of local law enforcement agencies, improving intelligence-sharing mechanisms, and conducting joint exercises with regional partners to counter emerging threats. Construction, waste management, and transportation regulations are already available to preserve the ecology. The government should take special care to develop the region without hampering the surroundings. The inclusion of locals must be the first step in this development process. Lack of communication between administration and locals should not be a reason for a halt in progress. Expanding military presence and tourism in Lakshadweep necessitates enhancing local capacity to support development and generate livelihoods for islanders.

Lakshadweep, with its untapped potential and strategic location, presents a unique opportunity for India to bolster its economic and security interests in the Indian Ocean region.

Developing the islands as a tourism base would not only boost India’s economy but also improve the livelihoods of the local population. Furthermore, establishing a military base in Lakshadweep would enhance India’s maritime security posture and contribute to regional stability. However, to fully realize these benefits, India must act swiftly and decisively. Investing in infrastructure, promoting sustainable tourism, and strengthening security measures are crucial steps and by doing so, India can transform this undiscovered asset into a shining beacon of prosperity and security in the Indian Ocean region.