US ship spied in Indian waters

Back the Navy’s call

Outlook magazine breaks the story of USS Bowditch an American naval ‘research’ vessel that exceeded its permit and conducted naval surveillance within India’s exclusive economic zone. Given the tenor of the Indian Navy’s note to the Ministry of Defence, the activities of the ship were of serious concern; and this was during 2002-2003 when Indian troops were massed on the border with Pakistan in retaliation for the attacks on the Indian parliament.

In 2001, the Bowditch was intercepted and forced to turn back by the Chinese navy when it was conducting ‘research’ in Chinese waters. Clearly, the Vajpayee government did not allow the Indian Navy to accord a similar courtesy to the Bowditch. This was clearly wrong. It is common practice to spy on friends and foes alike, but allowing even friends to conduct sensitive ‘research’ with impunity is not quite the way to go.

The leak of Navy’s note does seem politically motivated and helps promote the new government’s stand on relations with the United States. But the way forward is not to turn this into an argument for distancing America; rather, for the the new government to make it clear that India will not allow this case to turn into a precedent. The next time the Bowditch or another vessel arrives to conduct ‘research’ in India’s economic waters, it had better accept the Navy’s interpretations of what counts as research.