Relevance : GS Paper II & III
(International Relations and Internal Security)
Why has this issue cropped up?
Recently, the Prime Minister visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Historical significance of Andaman Islands
- In the 17th and 18th centuries, they were the site of contestation between European colonial powers — Portugal, the Netherlands, France and Britain.
- Britain occupied the islands at the end of the 18th century in search of a permanent military base. From a potential platform for power projection, the islands became a penal colony for the Raj.
- After the Second World War, the partition of India and the Cold War between America and Russia, the Andamans became marginal to the new geopolitics.
Present geopolitical significance of Andaman Islands
Today as a rising China projects its economic and military power into the Indian Ocean, any strategy for regional balance would necessarily involve the economic and military development of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- As in the Second World War, so in the current juncture, it would involve considerable cooperation between India and its major strategic partners.
- That in turn leads us to the imperative of ending the deliberate isolation of the island chain and promoting economic development, tighter integration with the mainland, strengthening military infrastructure, regional connectivity and international collaboration. The government has initiated some important steps in that direction, including on internet connectivity, visa liberalization, tourism, building new ports, agreements for cooperation with neighboring countries in South East Asia.
- Finally, any large-scale development would inevitably raise questions about preserving the pristine environment of the Andamans and protecting its vulnerable indigenous populations. As it tries to turn the outpost in the Andamans into a strategic hub, Delhi can draw much from the wealth of international experience on the sustainable transformation of fragile island territories.
Modi’s visit will hopefully begin to change India’s national narrative on the Andamans.