New Delhi, Mar 10: Prime Minister Narendra Modi left for Seychelles on Tuesday on the first leg of his five-day visit to three key Indian Ocean countries that also includes Mauritius and Sri Lanka, asserting that strong relations with them was "vital" for India's security and progress.
Seeking to ramp up India's influence along a strategic maritime route, Modi said it attaches "paramount importance" to strengthening relations with countries in the Indian Ocean region.
Modi, who will be the first Indian Prime Minister to travel to Seychelles in 33 years and to Sri Lanka in 28 years, is expected to tap into the "substantive" goodwill and historical linkages between India and the three Indian Ocean economies which offer new possibilities of cooperation in defence and economic spheres.
As his visit to the three island countries comes against the backdrop of Chinas increasing focus on the Indian Ocean region, Modi is expected to renew its commitment to the ocean economies where India envisages its role as a net security provider.
"My visit to the three Indian Ocean Island countries reflects our foreign policy priorities in Indias immediate and extended neighbourhood. India attaches paramount importance to strengthening relations with this region, which is vital for Indias security and progress," he said in a pre-departure statement.
The Prime Minister also said that India had strong, multifaceted and important relationship with each of the three countries he is visiting, observing,"they all occupy a very important place in our foreign policy." National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar are accompanying the Prime Minister.
Modi noted that his visit to Seychelles will be the first Prime Ministerial visit since 1981.
"India's relationship with Seychelles has been built on the foundation of mutual trust and shared values...I am keenly looking forward to my meeting with President James Michel, a great friend of India," he said.
After Seychelles, the Prime Minister would visit Mauritius where he will be the Chief Guest at the Independence Day celebrations on March 12, a date which is special to all Indians because Mahatma Gandhi began his Dandi March on the same date in 1930.
"My visit to Mauritius will aim to strengthen our age-old civilizational ties with 'Chhota Bharat'.I am honoured to be invited to address the National Assembly of Mauritius," he said.
"I will be participating in the joint commissioning of Indian-built Offshore Patrol Vessel Barracuda, and in the beginning of construction works for the building of World Hindi Secretariat," he said.
The Prime Minister said he looked forward to discussing with Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth ways to further deepen bilateral strategic partnership.
"I also look forward to meeting the entire political leadership of Mauritius, which has provided unstinting support for this relationship," Modi said.
The Prime Minister said his visit to Sri Lanka was an opportunity to further strengthen bilateral relationship in all its dimensions. "This will be our second Summit in a month's time since the visit of President Maithripala Sirisena to India last month," he said.
Modi's visit to Sri Lanka will be the first standalone Prime Ministerial visit to the island nation since 1987.
"I see this visit as an opportunity to further strengthen our relationship in all its dimensions political, strategic, economic, cultural, and above all, people to people contacts," he said. The visit to Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister said, was also part of his objective of maintaining frequent contact with neighbouring countries.
"I am delighted with the opportunity to visit one of our most important neighbours.I look forward to discussing our bilateral relations with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. I am also looking forward to meeting other political leaders of Sri Lanka. We will work together to forge a new partnership between our countries," he said.
The Prime Minister, who would be visiting the Mahabodhi Society in Colombo, and travel to Anuradhapura, Talaimannar and Jaffna, said he was honoured to be invited to address the Sri Lankan Parliament.
In Jaffna, the Prime Minister will lay the foundation stone for the iconic Jaffna Cultural Centre that will come up adjacent to the historic Jaffna Public Library.