India Gives Shape to ‘Mausam’

With China enhancing its presence in the Indian Ocean through its silk route plan, New Delhi, a few months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement, has started giving an “operational shape” to its project ‘Mausam’. This is a transnational initiative that aims at revival of India’s ancient maritime routes and cultural linkages with the countries of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). According to government officials, the Ministry Culture, the nodal agency for the project, has started collecting data on cultural material and places of architectural and architectural importance in the countries that lie along the Indian Ocean. It has also begun reviewing existing material and database on Monsoon.  The Ministry of External Affairs is playing a crucial role in getting access to such database. India’s diplomatic missions spread in countries from South Asia to Middle East to Pacific and Africa-are being roped in for supply of database on material that could be used for the project aimed for reviving the ancient links among countries of the Indian Ocean to expand the base of Delhi’s soft power diplomacy.
In nutshell, the project has three-dimensional approach: first, to deepen cultural bonding, second, to ensure maritime security and third, to broaden economic connectivity with nations of the IOR. As it has a strategic ramification also, India is getting crucial help from the US in strengthening its capabilities for a potential role in the IOR and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Though no details are available to suggest India-US collaboration in the region, the India-America-Japan trilateral talks are implicit with contours of strategic engagement among like-minded nations for peace and security in the Indian Ocean highway – the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea, around Southern Africa and the Mozambique Channel. It said that all these are cautiously worked out so that strategic balance between India and China doesn’t get out of control.
Continuing with the trilateral talks — without elevating it to the foreign minister’s level as per India-Japan and India-US joint statements — is cited as the key reason why Delhi doesn’t want to escalate tension with Beijing. Rather, despite covert slugfest between India and China over border disputes, both are working together to strengthen regional cooperation and advance their efforts to build Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar economic corridor.
But given the unpredictable nature of China, India doesn’t want to lower its guard especially when through its maritime silk route plan, China is trying all bids to regain a position of centrality in the Asia-Pacific region. It should be noted that China’s ancient silk route that stretched up to the Mediterranean Sea, covered India, Persia, Arabia, Bactria and Rome. During 2nd century BC, China used sea route to trade in silk to buy cotton and spices from India, precious stones and other items from Persia, Arabia and Europe. China wants to revive that ancient trade route through its new silk route plan mooted by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his Kazakhastan visit in 2013. It envisions an economic cooperation bloc from China to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. For this, China is planning to invest $16.3 billion for developing infrastructure like ports and naval bases. The aim is to ensure that the sea lanes carrying oil, gas and other minerals as well as Chinese goods from the mainland remain unhindered and without trouble. According to strategic experts, China’s planned silk route would effectively allow Beijing to develop a parallel trading network – a huge maritime arc encircling the whole of Asia and running into Europe. That means China will have a maritime dominance in the Asia-Pacific region.
Officials looking after the project in India maintain that it provides New Delhi an answer to counter balance China’s silk route strategy as it allows the country to secure its interest in the IOR without engaging in militaristic adventurism. In fact, it rekindles long-lost relationship across the countries of the region and forges new avenues of cooperation and exchange. Virtually, it works as a powerful tool to engage with the countries of the region by leveraging India’s cultural, historical, trade and commerce linkages with them. To this effect, attempts have been made for collaboration among regional researchers for dissemination of knowledge of cultural importance. People-to-people connectivity is being given a thrust. Argument given in this connection is that trade and commerce don’t help developing as much bonding as cultural and religious do. True, India’s recent high-level diplomatic engagement with Southeast Asian nations, Fiji and 12 other countries of the Pacific region, Mauritius and other African countries and South American nations like Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago—need to be seen in the context of historical, religious and ethnic linkages India has with these nations. Nonetheless, India seems to be on right track with regard to the project “Mausam” for which more than 50 countries have been identified.