When India (Almost) Invaded Mauritius
Image Credit: Wikicommons

When India (Almost) Invaded Mauritius


When one thinks of nations that have projected substantial military force on faraway islands countries like the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union are likely to come to mind. Less common is for one to mention India.

But some fascinating new research about the planning for an aborted 1983 military intervention in Mauritius suggests that India is capable of thinking big about expeditionary operations, and that New Delhi will be far from a passive player in the contested Indian Ocean theatre.

Nobody yet knows how an increasingly powerful India will behave in the looming Indo-Pacific era. But it would be foolish to assume that its security and foreign policy instincts will always be opposed to power projection and intervention.

In fact, to India’s mixed record of foreign adventures, actual and contemplated – from Sri Lanka and East Pakistan, to Seychelles and the Maldives – must now be added the story of Operation Lal Dora. 

According to the groundbreaking new research by Australian scholar David Brewster and former Indian Director of Naval Intelligence Ranjit Rai, Indira Gandhi’s government began serious planning for an armed intervention to prevent a feared coup to against India-friendly Anerood Jugnauth government in Mauritius.

In those Cold War days, Mauritius was torn by serious tensions along ideological and ethnic lines, and India had no doubts over whether this strategically-located Indian Ocean state was in its rightful sphere of interest.  Another consideration was the welfare of the Indian-majority population on the island. 

According to Brewster and Rai’s intriguing paper, an army battalion was actually mobilized and moved from Hyderabad to Mumbai, though never embarked; inconveniently, the navy had not been told to expect them.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s final decision not to deploy these forces was influenced by a fundamental clash of advice between the navy – which was reportedly in favor of the operation – and the army, which warned that India didn’t possess the necessary capabilities.

It is hard to imagine the Indian Navy being able to smoothly deploy a large army contingent all the way to Mauritius on what would essentially have been a task force of destroyers – it had no amphibious lift to speak of. But the intention was there and who can be certain that in its tradition of jugaad (improvisation) India would not have found a way?

What has changed since 1983?

More than ever, India is determined to define the Indian Ocean as its nautical backyard. There is little doubt that the Indian national interest and popular perceptions both demand that India strive to be the most powerful nation in these waters.

Today, it is potential Chinese influence— not American or Soviet— that preoccupies Indian strategic thinking.  India’s maritime security interests are now also entwined with a critical dependence on seaborne energy supplies. Moreover, the growing presence of Indian economic entities and Indian nationals in sometimes unstable foreign lands, combined with the influential Indian media’s outrage whenever an Indian national gets into strife overseas, means that pressures will only grow for the Indian government to deploy all the means at its disposal to protect Indian interests and honor abroad.

Gradually India is building a credible amphibious capability, as well as workable security partnerships with a widening range of nations. So next time an Indian leader just might get a response when he or she asks the military brass for options to protect interests beyond the subcontinent. 

February 11, 2014 at 04:35

I as an Indian can say, inspite of an insanely diverse population which keeps fighting against each other for one reason or other, when aggrieved by another nation, this huge population unites. And yes India is spending damn lot on military. It is doing it with intent cause it knows the Chinese cannot be trusted.

July 25, 2013 at 03:33

Well…yea…i am one of those cowards..as you said….there was a idiot called M.K.Gandhi……..he screwed the brits with a stick…..now why we need a sword…….?

April 17, 2013 at 23:34

Unfortunaley for you India had won 5 wars againts a Pakistani army more equiped and physically strong than the Vietnamese the Americans lost the wars to. It is a historical fact. Go and research.

March 23, 2013 at 04:03

Were you on a high when you wrote this? Your post sounds awfully trippy.

Anyways, it isn't Panchatantra, but Panchasheela, the five principles, that we had signed with China in the 50s. Panchatantra is a collection of short stories, much like Aesop's fables, while Pancharatna just means five jewels.

Happy tripping

Alpha roger
March 20, 2013 at 21:58

Ah the kindergarten flourishes of IAN’s insane musings have the usual content of men on horsebacks brandishing swords and yelling Allah o Akbar. His addiction to this primordial bravery of his ancestors doesn’t countenance lahore’s occupation by Indian army which might have continued to date. India’s ordnance factories were making refrigerators during china’s incursions into India based on Chinese avowals of peace enshrined in panchtantra or panchratna peace pact. India has kept its nose to the grindstone building up an economy so large that even leftover morsels conjure up feasts for its neighbors. IAN you need to get off your hobby horse, get a shower and a change of clothes. I don’t expect a change of mind because that’s a wrong assumption.

March 20, 2013 at 18:59

Dont know which country u belong to bt one thing fr sure u mistaken lenience ,patience and reluctance to fight as incompetence and inability India has all the resources to defend its terrorities and if required invade another

March 20, 2013 at 12:52

You haven't been posting anything but links to somebody elses opinion for some time dude.


Coen van Wyk
March 20, 2013 at 04:35

Very interesting. I did not think there was such a degree of tension in 1983, but then I was not there at that time, and there may well have been inside information. 


India still has a firm hand in Mauritius security issues, with advisors in many places. On the other hand Mauritius is now a member of SADC and the African Union, so a security threat would be answered from that side. At least in theory. With the memory of their energetic intervention in the Comoros not so long ago, and in Seychelles longer ago, I would expect tht Tanzania would have a view on any threats of a coup in Mauritius, unlikely as that seems at the moment. 

March 20, 2013 at 04:24

Hi Ian ! Friend, dont know which country or region you belong to, but if you unfold the pages of history, you will always find, India is a symbol of patience & perseverance, but never understimate these two strength, beyond this elastic limit lies a tremendous power to retaliate and protect her interest. India is capable enough of facing the crisis and mitigating it on her own, rather than depending on any associate.

March 20, 2013 at 02:12

All these "power projection" type dreams are wishful thinking by those (mostly Western) writers who see a vacuum now that the Cold War is over and there is no rich patron to keep the illusion of empire going. Unlike the global role that the United States was almost frog-marched into adopting by a broken and fearful Europe after World War II, the new Asian powers are not looking to bankroll some client states' dreams of a good life. E,g., unlike the rather generous Uncle Sam who gives his allies/clients shiny new cars and excellent infrastructure (to enable the "pursuit of happiness"), the Asian patrons like China expect their chamchas (tributary states) to be happy with a bowl of rice and to live simply. That in itself is going to lead to a lower quality of life among the parasites who have got used to living high on the hog all these decades without doing much for themselves. Countries like India and China will project power when it's in their interest to do so, not when western observers wistfully long for a familiar model of global power.

March 20, 2013 at 01:54

Desire, willingness, and ability to do so are different things.  India's post-colonial history has been fairly aggressive and it should come as no surprise that India would want to send troops overseas in the name of acting like a Big Power.  The issue at hand then is not "does it want to?", but rather, "Can it?"  India's armed forces are a mixed bag at best, boosted by increased spending, but weighed down by what can only be labeled as incompetence and corruption.

India's single largest stumbling block has been China.  By the very nature of their relationship, China has the advantage.  India has constantly been on the defensive, planning against China rather than planning for its own interests.  As a result, India's poorly placed to act unilaterally since its force disposition, composition, and training will have a Sino-Indian conflict in mind rather than, let's say, an intervention in Madagascar or Yemen. 

India's capacity for military expeditions remains limited to UN-sponsored actions and will likely remain so for the foreseable future.

March 20, 2013 at 00:46

if anyone noticed the Indian anvy's massive modernisation today … not just its growing amphibious capabilities.. then that is surely a sign of intent. navy's of scale are for power projection.

March 19, 2013 at 22:24

The author forgot to mention other India's foreign adventure.

1951 : Adventure against South Tibet



1962 : Adventure against China


1975: Adventure against Sikkim


W. Tseng
March 19, 2013 at 18:35

He missed Fiji. I remember reading the SCMP at he time of the Indian threat to invade Fiji to protect their ethnic cousins during the Indian/Fijians ethnic riots there. They only stopped when the Aussie stepped in.

March 19, 2013 at 15:30

Since when the Indians grown back bone and had the courage to take on a country??? A country populated by cowards should not even dream of stepping outside their own house in the name of military adventure.

March 19, 2013 at 15:30

South-East Asia campaign of Rajendra Chola I


Farkhor Air Base


Indian 1975 annexation of Sikkim







March 19, 2013 at 15:05

Any Indian adventure will invariably attract China. While the pro-Indian camp gets Indian help, the other camp will get Chinese and Pakistani help. An ensuing battle will hurt mostly the Indian expatriates in these islands. The agrieved parties may also help the many Indian radical groups. That seems to be the main reason to avoid confrontation.

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