In a couple of decades India will be one of the two largest economies in the world, and Bharatiyata! aims to be here for those entire twenty years as India takes its place as world leader. With our very first post, and as a foundation project, we are embarking on our long journey by setting a challenge: that by the time 2036 comes around, the incredible beauty of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands will have been enhanced by the development of the largest resorts, deep-water harbours and free trade entrepots in the world, dwarfing Dubai and surpassing the beaches of Thailand, even outclassing Hong Kong and Singapore as vibrant free-trade utopias. That quest begins right here and now.
In case you don’t know where or what these islands are, I will just say that not only are they some of the plumpest virgin real estate on the planet, but are vital strategically to India’s future as a regional power and guarantor of freedom in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea in the face of China’s expansionist, some would say agressive moves, not attempted on this scale since the early Ming dynasty.
You can see from any map that the islands are basically ocean outcrops, the tips of a subterranean mountain range extending from, in the south, Indonesia (with whom India is enjoying ever-warmer relations) to Myanmar in the north.
At the moment the Andamans and Nicobars – hundreds of miles in length and home in certain forbidding passes to the last true (and most aggressive) stone-age tribes on the planet – host some tri-services Indian military bases and a scattering of habitations and minor conurbations. It is a terrible waste, although tourism is now improving after even visiting the area was discouraged for a long time.
For too long the islands have been seen by Delhi as an outpost and a defensive wall, rather than the bleeding edge of the Indian economy and its resurgent identity and role as a major power in south Asia – and a vital counterbalance to China, especially now it looks as if the USA is retreating somewhat from its global ambitions and responsibilities.
The idea to make use of the islands is not new, but has been imbued with fresh urgency by the emerging strategic regional situation. The best way for India to stamp its authority on the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, reassuring its neighbors, (whom Modi is working hard to include in a new Indian commonwealth as an alternative to the encroachment of a Chinese superpower) is to pursue the dual aim in the islands of adding to its military presence while simultaneously developing a new Hong Kong involving hundreds of billions of dollars’-worth of investment.
As former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran pointed out as far back as 2009, Port Blair lies just 950 km from Singapore and 400 km from both Yangon in Myanmar and Phuket, Thailand. The islands are on major traffic routes and can be utilised as deep water ports and container hubs (Port Blair and Campbell Bay). Hotels, residential areas, parks and reservations, beaches (better than those on the opposite shores in Thailand) … all this lies waiting for ambitious and sensitive development, with the added bonus of pushing back against China’s naturally selfish ambitions for the region. As Saran pointed out, by discouraging China’s ambitions it would actually help the cause of peace.
An economic bonanza and a reinvigoration of the economies of the region awaits bold and imaginative investors who can envision a new, truly twenty-first century city in the Nicobars. It appears as if the Indian government might be at last changing its security-minded attitude, as it realises that development in the Andamans and Nicobars can only enhance security and prosperity, and not just for India.