Seychelles’ founding President Sir James Mancham’s address at the inaugural meeting of the Raisina Dialogue that was hosted by India’s Ministry of External Affairs in association with the Observer Research Foundation of India on March 1, 2016, made an impressive impact, judging by the great applause from the estimated six hundred personalities in the audience. Sir James’ speech followed that of Mr. Sanjay Joshi, Director of the Research Foundation of India; Chandrika Kumaratunga, former President of Sri Lanka; and Hamid Karzai, former President of Afghanistan. It was followed by an address from Abdul Hasan Mehmood Ali, Minister of External Affairs of Bangladesh; Smt. Sushma Swaraj, India’s Minister of External Affairs, and Ashok Malik, Senior Fellow of Observer Research Foundation of India. Mr. Samir Saran, Vice President of the Observer Research Foundation, was the moderator.
The inaugural panel was followed by a welcome dinner hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India.
Sir James started his address by saying how honored and privileged he felt by being invited to participate and to deliver an address at the Raisina Dialogue which is considered as India’s flagship conference engaging with geo politics and geo-economics which has been designed to explore and examine the prospects and opportunities for Asian integration as well as Asia’s integration with the larger world. The dialogue is also predicated on India’s vital role in the Indian Ocean region and how India, along with its partners in the region and beyond, can build a stable and prosperous world order.
Sir James said that although the Republic of Seychelles has a population of less than 100,000 people, under the Law of Sea Convention, its 110 islands cover a maritime space as large as the Federal Republic of Germany and was thus mindful of the decision of the Government of India to make the Indian Ocean the top priority of its Foreign Policy.
Sir James recalled an address he delivered in Tokyo, Japan, two years ago, to the leaders of the Pacific Islands nations when he told them to pray to God Almighty that the only oil they discover be coconut oil, because if they were to discover the real stuff, then the islands would not be theirs anymore, and they would fail to remain master of their own destiny. He said that on second thought, he realized that he should have also told them to pray to God Almighty that their islands would not acquire an important geo-political dimension.
Sir James said that he personally got involved in politics in the early 60s, during the cold war period. During that time, India’s Foreign Policy was based on the peaceful teaching and philosophy of such men of wisdom as Rabindranath Tagore and the great Mahatma Gandhi adding that even Buddha found his resting place in India.
A strong and active member of the Non-Aligned Movement, India, with the support of the Soviet Union, at that time openly opposed the decision of the United States to build up a naval cum military complex in Diego Garcia in the Chagos archipelago in the western part of the Indian Ocean. Historically speaking, the Americans came to the Indian Ocean to fill the gap left by the British decision to pull out east of the Suez. At that time, the Indian Ocean was described as a “Western lake” with the British having a naval base in Tricomalee in Sri Lanka, which was then known as Ceylon; on the island of Gan in the Maldives; in Mombasa, Kenya, and in Aden, now Yemen. The French were in Madagascar, Djibouti, and on the island of La Réunion.
With the British having made the decision to pull out, India and the Soviet Union proclaimed the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace and condemned the arrival of the Americans and the build-up of the base in Diego Garcia.
But much water has gone under the bridge of international politics since the end of the cold war, and today, as we know, India is aligned with the United States to counter balance the Chinese penetration of the area. Sadly, I have personally over the years learned that in international politics, there is no permanent friend or enemy, but permanent national interest.
“I was certainly shocked when at a recent conference in Berlin, … a high official of NATO admitted that the world defense budget is three to four times bigger then what the world spending on human resource development.
“Of course, getting prepared for war, means building or buying more war ships, more missiles, torpedoes, submarines, and the lot.
“Sadly, nations have failed to appreciate that there is no more victory in war. You may win a battle, [but] that doesn’t mean you have won the war. Sadly, too, when you become militarily strong, there is always the temptation of drifting away from the policy of ‘Right is Might’ to a policy of ‘Might is Right.’
“The ugly images of the destroyed cities of Syria are enough to make us realize the power of destruction – and all this was achieved without the use of nuclear weapons.
“Mr. Speaker, the Observer Research Foundation of India should urgently spearhead a program for creating trust among and between nations, big or small. I am personally glad to see that also participating in this conference is an Admiral from the U.S.A. and a Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, as well as high representatives of many other nations. Yes, we must move towards building up a more connected and fraternal Asia, not only in Asia’s interest but also in the interest of the whole world,” Sir James declared.