New Delhi: Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has slammed the opposition for “casting suspicion on India” in the context of the island nation’s controversial Agalega Island and allegations of an Indian military base being set up there.
This comes amid a raging snooping row that has dragged New Delhi right into the eye of a storm in the African country. Last week, India was caught in a blamegame after former Mauritius Telecom CEO Sherry Singh resigned, claiming that Jugnauth forced him to allow an “Indian team” access to a facility, with the aim of installing a “sniffing device”.
While opposition parties in Mauritius have united against the government there, accusing Jugnauth of “high treason” and seeking his resignation, India has continued to remain silent on the issue, choosing to align with PM Jugnauth’s statements.
During question hour in the Mauritian parliament Thursday, Jugnauth said: “We know that India has been assisting Mauritius all the way from our independence to help us develop our economy, uplift and modernise infrastructure, improve community facilities and enhance the quality of the lives of our citizens.”
He added, “This has been possible thanks to our special relationship and partnership with India which have been consolidated over time by this government. We should show gratitude towards India instead of casting suspicion over a genuine partnership.”
The PM was answering questions posed to him by leader of opposition Xavier Luc Duval on the Agalega Island and the presence of “foreign military personnel” there. Duval also asked the PM about the purported plan to station the Poseidon B737, an anti-submarine aircraft, there.
Duval further said that he is not “casting suspicion” on India, but on the PM.
In 2015, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Indian Ocean island nation, India and Mauritius signed a bilateral agreement to develop sea and air linkages in the Agalega Island.
While signing the agreement, the Ministry of External Affairs had said that developing Agalega Island will “enhance the capabilities of the Mauritian Defence Forces in safeguarding their interests in the Outer Island”.
However, the move was seen as India’s attempt to thwart challenges posed by China in the Indian Ocean as Beijing planned to expand its influence in the region by building ports across the maritime domain under a proposed ‘String of Pearls’ plan.
Thus, the issue became controversial as some said India was basically building a military base in the Agalega Island to keep an eye on China under Modi’s Indian Ocean vision of ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)’.
On Thursday, Jugnauth once again denied allegations of the island being transformed into a military base.
The Mauritian PM also said that “a confidentiality clause stipulates that the details of the agreement will not be made public. But the funding for this project is provided free of charge by the Indian government”.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Thursday at a media briefing that the Mauritius government has responded, including at the level of the prime minister, on the matter. “We don’t have any further information to share on this issue at this moment.”
On a meeting held by the External Affairs Ministry with Attorney General and the Minister of Agro Industry and Food Security of Mauritius, Maneesh Gobin, of Mauritius — while the snooping allegations were swirling — Bagchi said: “I seem to recollect briefly that this meeting happened. This was part of the regular consultations.”
Snooping row, mystery around India’s ‘moustache man’ deepen
The Agalega project is not expected to take off before 2024, as specified by PM Jugnauth.
However, opposition parties there have brought it back into the limelight owing to the growing snooping controversy and the mystery around the Indian “moustache man”, believed to be the leader of the Indian technical team that went to Mauritius to access a highly sensitive internet landing station.
The matter took another twist this week when it came to light that Lilram Deal, head of the counter-terrorism unit of Mauritius, was reportedly present during the visit of the team of technical experts from India.
A L’express report stated that some of the embassies in Mauritius, including the US embassy there, are “following this case very closely in order to better understand what happened and whether there has been a violation of freedom on the internet”.
Meanwhile, two prominent activists in Mauritius have filed a complaint of conspiracy against PM Jugnauth, and demonstrations continue against him for allowing the Indian team to allegedly access sensitive data at the SAFE (South Africa Far East) cable landing station in Baie-du-Jacotet, a prohibited area.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)