The discussions surrounding China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative has reached its peak with India raising its concern over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will pass through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). While conveying the country’s decision to skip the opening ceremony of China’s Belt and Road Forum, India stated in no uncertain terms that the proposed corridor is a direct attack on its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Behind the infrastructural push of China in the 65 nations it has identified along the ancient Silk Road is its raw ambition to establish itself as a hegemon. While China wants to forge links across Europe, Asia and Africa, what is of particular concern to India apart from the infringement on its territory is China’s efforts to establish supremacy in the Indian Ocean. China’s designs to connect its coast to Europe through the South China Sea and Indian Ocean in one route would put India at risk of security threats and alter the balance of power in the region. In the hurry to analyze China’s policy and its possible repercussions for the region, a fact that is overlooked is that the Narendra Modi-led government had launched Project Mausam in 2014 to counter the rising Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
It can be argued that compared to the scale of OBOR, Project Mausam which is essentially an initiative that comes under the Ministry of Culture pales in its reach. But a closer look at the project reveals its hidden contours which if executed properly can become a game changer for India in its diplomatic outreach. OBOR rests on the principle of tying the nations involved to a set of conditionalities which will eventually affect the sovereign decision-making powers of the countries where investments have been made. It will in a way help China to realise its dream of spreading its footprints globally. When the fact that the investments in the Central Asian and Southeast Asian countries might not yield any profitable benefits for China is taken into consideration, what emerges in the form of OBOR is economic and political colonization. A parallel that can be drawn here is the East India Company of the 18th century that built a political empire by engaging in trade with nations. The economic gains that OBOR is expected to bring to all the nations involved will in turn give China greater political power at the negotiating tables.
Contrary to this is India’s Project Mausam that seeks to revive the historical maritime routes that had India as the focal point. Its main aim is to share the knowledge system and ideas between the littoral states of Indian Ocean. The focus is on gaining the trust of the nations involved thereby forging equal partnerships. At a time when global politics is more or less defined by its power games, India’s unique approach has the potential of redefining the principles of geo-strategy.
The project derives its title from the reliance on Monsoon winds by Indian sailors in ancient times for maritime trade. This has helped develop deep cultural linkages with over 40 nations from East Africa along West Asia to countries of South and Souteast Asia. In addition to creating more cultural linkages, the project also aims to develop economic ties by furthering India’s blue economy agenda. This will help the economic progress of all the nations involved in a more or less equitable manner. Above all, the formation of people to people linkages would mean that India will be able to leverage its soft power and thus command greater support in the international arena.
China has already stalled India’s efforts to get a transnational heritage status for the project from UNESCO by claiming that it will hinder its proposal of reviving the maritime silk route. China’s swift response is an indication of the importance that Project Mausam holds in the regional balance of power. Once India can ensure the support of all the nations that are part of Project Mausam, it will keep the balance tilted in favour of India in the Indian Ocean Region.