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India shows its sphere of influence to the world

Wednesday 5 January 2005, by RAJGHATTA*Chidanand

WASHINGTON: India’s geo-strategic ambition and importance may have been recognized in one epiphanic instant that occurred in front of a map spread out before three American presidents at the Indian Embassy in Washington on Monday.

India’s ambassador Ronen Sen was explaining to George Bush, Bush Sr and Bill Clinton how the tsunami raced towards India when there was a pause and a raised eyebrow. The Indian island territory of Andaman and Nicobar was closer to Indonesia than India?

Indeed, Sen explained, the southern most tip of Nicobar Island called Indira Point was almost 1000 miles from the Indian coast and a mere 60 nautical miles from the epicenter of the earthquake just off the Indonesian coast.

In that pivotal instant, New Delhi may have driven home its strategic range, reach and ambition that for most part has escaped major powers and leaders of the world, including a geographically accomplished president like Bill Clinton.

As major powers of the world summon their financial and military might to help the victims, New Delhi has put its own imprint on the region in the wake of the tragedy.

While some may find talk of geo-strategy repugnant in the face of the disaster, western analysts are following every move by the US and Asian powers in the region. Several commentaries have spoken of which country is outmaneuvering the other.

For instance, it has been noted that Japan, with a $ 500 million aid package, has outshone both the United States ($ 350 million), and China, which committed only $ 63 million despite its higher military stakes in the region. India has always been sniffy about Chinese presence in the area.

India’s aid of $ 23 million rushed to Sri Lanka within hours of the disaster has also been noticed, along with the deployment of what is now being seen as the most potent navy in the Indian Ocean. New Delhi has dispatched three survey ships converted to hospitals-at-sea - one to Nicobar, one to Sri Lanka, and one to Bandar Aceh in Indonesia.

"The reason why India was approached to join the team of core nations was because it is a country with major capabilities. We have the largest navy in the Indian Ocean," Ambassador Sen acknowledged, adding, "There are good reasons why it is called the Indian has always been in the Indian sphere of influence."

To get a measure of India’s territorial expanse, Sen said western experts should try superimposing the map of Europe over that of India. It is often overlooked, even by Indians, that the distance from Delhi to Dushanbe in Central Asia is less than to many southern Indian cities, he said, recalling the vision of J.N.Dixit, India’s National Security Advisor who died on Sunday.

"Sad as it is, it took the tsunami to realize India’s expanse," Sen said. "Even the British who drew our maps first have no idea of this now."

President Bush, who has repeatedly credited New Delhi India with justifiable global power aspirations despite its myriad problems, virtually affirmed its credentials after his visit to the embassy. He even announced his intention to visit India this year.

"I want to thank the Indian government for taking a lead in this issue. One of the first things that we did was to put together a core group of nations, nations that are capable of organizing relief efforts around the region, and the Indian government has been especially strong, as a part of this core group," Bush acknowledged.

See online : Times of India

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