In a rare first, India has openly backed Morocco’s move to rejoin the African Union (AU).

For long, India has maintained a distance with the North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. However, New Delhi changed its stand on Thursday. A senior spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement, saying: “India welcomes Morocco’s initiative to re-join the AU. India enjoys close relationship with all African nations, including Morocco.”

Political analysts are of the opinion that the statement indicated a change in New Delhi’s ‘Africa policy’. In 1984-85, Morocco snapped ties with India after then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

As Rabat considered SADR or Western Sahara as one of its provinces, it blamed Algeria and Polisario for encouraging SADR to leave Morocco. The AU, the successor body to the Organisation of African Unity, also refused to accept Morocco as its member. The AU made clear that Morocco would have to acknowledge SADR’s status to become a member of the bloc.

The political development in northern Africa had prompted Morocco to snap ties with India. Many political activists in Morocco also compared the SADR issue with the Kashmir issue. However, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in India tried to re-establish ties with Morocco in the last decade of 20th century. In 2000, India reversed its ‘Morocco policy’ to restore the balance. Although there was a possibility that India’s decision to re-establish ties with Morocco might have consequences for its ties with Algeria, the Vajpayee government decided to maintain friendly ties with Rabat.

Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is following the Vajpayee government’s decision to bolster ties with Morocco. Last year, PM Modi invited the Moroccan king to the India-Africa Summit in New Delhi. The king was the only odd man out, as leaders of the rest of the 54 countries being part of the AU. By backing Morocco’s move to rejoin the AU, New Delhi has once again hinted that it is ready to restore ties with Rabat.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]