President Ramkalawan speaks to DD India |04 March 2021
‘Seychelles needs India and India needs Seychelles too’
Compiled by Vidya Gappy
“Seychelles needs India and India needs Seychelles too,” President Wavel Ramkalawan has toldIndian television channel, DD India during an exclusive interview in which he addressed mainly the Seychelles-India relationship, as well as regional and global issues of interests or concerns to both countries.
President Ramkalawan also told DD India anchor Ramesh Ramachandran during the 28-minute interview aired on Tuesday March 2, 2021 that as far as the region, the continent is concerned, Seychelles will play its role be it politically, strategically or economically, adding that India is the biggest trading partner and we are looking forward to increasing that.
We bring you highlights of the interview.
Covid-19 pandemic: “We are in the middle of a very aggressive vaccination programme with help from various friends, including India with the Covishield and worldwide, Seychelles is actually number two or three in terms of vaccination. We are hoping that by mid-March, 70,000 people will be vaccinated which represents 70% of our population. According to scientists, this will give us herd immunity. We also had some challenges with the number of Covid cases, but this seems to be the general trend in other countries. When people receive the vaccine, suddenly they let their guards down. And this is what seemed to happen to our people. But we are coping and the curve is slowly flattening and we are hoping that soon things will go back to normal and by March the country will be open to visitors.”
Cooperation between India and Seychelles: “I would like to thank Prime Minister Modi and the government of India in getting us the vaccine. One thing that is important to note is that Seychelles is the closest African country to India. This clearly shows the friendship that exists between Seychelles and India. When the Foreign Secretary visited Seychelles, the Covid situation was indeed serious, but we created the right corridor so that he could come to Seychelles and we could have the conversation.
“Next month we are receiving a patrol boat for the Coast Guards and there are a number of projects that have been lined up such as the building of the government house, building of a new police headquarters, forensic lab and many other collaborations in other sectors. All this is done on the basis of respect and this will continue to be the foundation that guides us.”
Seychelles is important for India. How would you describe the current state of play in Seychelles-India ties, politically, economically, culturally and strategically?
“I would say on all counts it’s a ten for everything. We are on a perfect score. We of course understand India’s strategic thinking and India also understands our thinking. This is the basis of this strong friendship that has united these two peoples. India was among the first countries to recognise our independent Seychelles. India, UK, France and China have been friends since day one and we will continue to strengthen this friendship but making sure that we will not interfere in the internal affairs of each other, but wherever there are strong areas of cooperation, we will make sure these are being pushed as far as possible.”
India’s vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region): SAGAR is India's policy or doctrine of maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean region. Are we expecting a forward movement on these issues?
“Yes, Prime Minister Modi has invited me to come to India and I am looking forward to that, the home of my great-grand father. As far as the region, the continent is concerned, Seychelles will play its role be it politically, strategically or economically. India is the biggest trading partner and we are looking forward to increasing that. When the Foreign Secretary was here, we spoke about that and we also talked about how Seychelles could be given some priority as far as reaching your markets. As far as the military aspect is concerned, we have received two Dornier planes from India. This is part of the patrol surveillance that we do as our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is enormous even though our land mass is small. We have many lessons to learn from each other and of course we recognise India as the biggest democracy in the world and if we had a peaceful transition after the election, it is a lesson of democracy that we learned from India.”
Defence and security is an important pillar of the bilateral ties, do your government have any misgivings or concerns about deepening defence ties with India specially ratifying certain agreements of the past?
“Well, the position is clear on these agreements, we should be able to move forward and not remain stuck on what has happened in the past. I think definitely Seychelles needs India and India also needs Seychelles. I look forward in this new administration for us to be able to consider any area but one point I want to make is: Anything, especially as far as defence is concerned, has got to involve here in Seychelles all parties concerned and the opposition has an important role to play and I think if there should be any discussion I will definitely bring the opposition which was yesterday’s government and who negotiated the various agreements. Defence matters are not only about me as President or my political party but they should involve everybody.”
President Ramkalawan also thoroughly talked about his roots from India and his strong Indian DNA. He noted how emotional his visit to India was when he went to visit the village his great-grand parents originated from.
“The whole village was waiting for me there and I told them in 1883, a child of this village came to Seychelles and here I am as the soul of my great-grand father coming back to the village. It was an emotional journey. I told them I am the leader of the opposition today, please pray for me so that I can become president. Now they are all waiting for me to go back there and will see how I can help and the one project I would like to be involved in is the education of the girls.”
He concluded the interview by talking about his pastoral works and being President.
“My mission is to serve the people, as long as your mission is centered towards serving people, the two go hand in hand. Many people still call me Father and I only want to see the best for people.”