India’s recent maritime initiatives - Project ‘Mausam’ and ‘Sagarmala’ - have generated some discussion about a supposed Indian counter-strategy to China’s Maritime Silk Road in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). While the inherent logic of such claims is based on reasonable assumptions, the truth apparently is more complex.
Project Mausam is essentially a Ministry of Culture project concerning the creation of cultural links with India’s maritime neighbours. Pursued in concert with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
The project’s objective is two-fold:
- At the macro level to re-connect with the countries of the IOR with the aim of enhancing the understanding of cultural values and concerns.
- At a more localised level, to enable an understanding of national cultures in a regional maritime milieu.
Project Sagarmala, on the other hand, is an initiative to enable port-led direct and indirect development, especially the provision and efficient operation of port infrastructure.
While Sagarmala and Mausam are both outwardly development projects, they are also, in some ways, strategic undertakings.
Mausam, for instance, aims to explore maritime routes that link India to different parts of the Indian Ocean littoral. One of its sub-themes is the sharing of knowledge systems and ideas between the many coastal centres along the maritime routes connecting India with the Indian Ocean’s sub-systems. This could in the long-term imply an aspiration for greater Indian influence in the IOR.
Sagarmala too aims to obtain access to new development regions and enhanced connectivity with regional economic centres. Though the project’s remit is confined to infrastructure creation in Indian ports, given the contested nature of Indian Ocean politics, it could well expand into a regional undertaking.
Certainly, with the Chinese setting forth an ambitious plan for maritime infrastructure creation in the IOR, India will be keen on keeping its strategic options open. These would conceivably envisage the building of counter-leverages in the IOR to preserve India’s geostrategic influence. Therefore, in addition to being useful domestic initiatives, the two projects could serve as critical pillars of a broader Indian strategy for greater regional integration.