New Delhi: India has been approved as a member of the Indian Ocean Commission, the inter-governmental organisation that coordinates maritime governance in the south-western Indian Ocean.
The decision, as per sources, was made at Friday’s meeting of the IOC council of ministers in Seychelles. India had apparently made the application to join as observer of the organisation last month.
Till now, IOC had four observers – China, Malta, European Union and International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF)
Set up in 1982, the Indian Ocean Commission comprises Seychelles, Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius, and Reunion island, France’s overseas territory in the region.
Not surprisingly, due to their common history, the group has largely been dominated by France, as all the island states are predominately Francophone with a common colonial history.
In fact, the 2018 joint strategic vision for India-France cooperation in the Indian Ocean region – released during the visit of French president Emmanuel Macron – specifically mentions that France would support India’s entry in the IOC as an observer.
In return, India had supported a “greater role” for France in the bigger Indian Ocean Rim Association. However, while France is already an IORA dialogue partner, obtaining a membership via its overseas Indian territories has proved to be a bridge too far, with opposition from its former colonial states.
As per officials, India’s observer status in IOC is significant as it institutionalises a larger engagement in the south-western Indian ocean which has increased in the last couple of years.
In December last year, the ministry of external affairs rejigged its internal divisions to have a more cohesive engagement with institutions and countries in Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The IOR division previously had the responsibility to coordinate bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. This division was further expanded westwards to include Madagascar and Comoros through a notification on December 16.
Earlier in 2019, the MEA got a brand-new Indo-Pacific division to reflect the priority given to the region and bring about a sense of coherence within its various regions. The division also looked after the multilateral linkages in the region and would likely look after the enhanced IOC portfolio.