The conveniently isolated territories of Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands are a mine of abundant natural resources and efficient trade lines. However, the collection of 572 islands that form the southeast border of India, also have a great many geo-political and militaria significance. What just appears to be a by and large caption of the Indian Ocean, the territory of Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands also offer an extensive buffer zone between India and the rest of the nations. However, the large distance from the mainland is a worrisome concern as nations, especially around the Indian Ocean, are closer to the Indian islands than the Indian mainland itself. Nations such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Myanmar are very close to the territories of India which poses a great challenge on the Indian authorities to preserve the territorial sovereignty and hence, numerous political manifestations, military programs and defense exercises are regularly carried out to cater the ulterior aim.
Significance Of Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands
The territories neighboring the Indian Ocean homes around one-fourth of the total world population. Furthermore, one-third of littoral states, i.e., states which house a coast or shore, are embodied by the Indian ocean. Therefore, owing to the Indian Ocean’s magnanimous importance, the south-eastern islands of India enjoy the geographical significance when it comes to trade, maritime groupings and also furnishes up to 30% of the Exclusive Economic Zone. In addition, due emphasis is imperative to be given to the trade route, especially the active usage of the Ten Degree channel. The ten-degree channel as the name suggests, is the small corridor between the Andaman Islands and Nicobar Island, which enables the majority of the trade passes from South China Sea and Pacific to Indian Ocean.
Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea on the other hand, is equally significant as that of Andaman & Nicobar Islands. With a total land area of a meagre 32 sq. kms, gives India around 20,000 sq. kms of territorial waters, as Lakshadweep comprises a total of 36 islands spread all across. Furthermore, Lakshadweep Islands is also the first Union Territory in India to become 100% organic in terms of cultivation and harvesting. Abundant resources of coconut and fishes coupled with scenic beauties fuel the tourism industry and other small businesses.
Militaria Significance and Challenges
It is a no-brainer that the importance of the South-Eastern border must be recognized. Acting as the extended arms of the country, Andaman & Nicobar Island and Lakshadweep Islands are a non-negotiable aspect in terms of the country’s security. India’s Navy Chief, Admiral R K Dhowan has put forth his grave concerns regarding increase in deployment of naval assets to the islands for surveillance in important sea lines of communication. A more sound and strategic bureaucracy is required to fasten up the infrastructural development at the shores. Faster decision making would enable India to use these islands to project power into the region and signal China’s People’s Liberation Army about its intervention and retaliation.
However, it would also be wrong to consider the islands as a fallow and lifeless defense establishment. Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) is the first and only Tri-Service theatre command of the Indian Armed Forces based at Port Blair in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Instituted in 2001, ANC is responsible for safeguarding India’s strategic interests in Southeast Asia by increasing rapid deployment of military assets in the islands. Furthermore, the ANC actively conducts bi-annual coordinated patrols (CORPATs) with the naval forces of Thailand and Indonesia. In addition, SIMBEX maritime exercise with Singapore, and the biennial Milan multilateral naval exercise are also carried out to strengthen relations across borders.
Another natural sentinel, Lakshadweep also has a relatively small naval facility in Kavaratty, which is duly expected to expand to meet the requirements of security. The rightful expansion of the same would possibly result in joint naval exercises with US, Japan and Australia, which consequently project itself as a gateway or barrier for India’s allies and foes respectively.
The territorial borders in the form of isolated and distant islands, raise grave concerns for India. For example, Indira Point, which is the southernmost tip of the Nicobar Islands, is just 215 km away from Banda Aceh, Indonesia. This creates an unwanted security issue. Furthermore, a vast body of islands under the umbrella are vacant and have limited civilizations enabling the misuse of those territories in drug trade and illegal smuggling. Adding to the injury, the sensitive ecology around the islands makes it even tougher for the Union at the center to create military infrastructure and regular employment. And lastly, evident strides of Chinese submarines in the Indian ocean turns the air even darker.
As India, under the leadership of the present government, looks towards the extension and enlargement of its maritime horizons, both Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands will receive increased strategic attention. The advantages of preserving and sustaining the diplomacy and bureaucracy at both the natural sentinels would only look out for strengthening its defense and maintaining security. For instance, with the new naval base at Karwar on the West Coast, the Southern Naval Command at Kochi could be converted into a Tri-Command facility.
Written by Hamza Jamal is presently reading law and writes for The Wonk on polity and world affairs.