NEW DELHI: The Brazil-made Embraer aircraft of the Indian Air Force took off from Hulhule island near the Maldivian capital of Male, flew south, circled a ring of islets—an atoll—and landed at a World War II airfield. It was around 9 am.
‘Operation Concubine’ found the Blue Lagoon—a British expedition that decided that the Addu atoll was among the finest of places to establish an airbase that later came to be known as RAF Gan.
The ‘Blue Lagoon’ was so called because the waters were circled by fortifying islets. Unlike in most parts of the coral chain that make up the Maldives, there was enough draft here for warships to anchor.
“The water is so blue and so deep but we could still see big fish,” recalls an official. He was among the passengers in the plane. Among the others were then Indian defence minister A K Antony, Vice Admirals D K Joshi (who later was chief of naval staff before he resigned) and Anil Chopra and Lt General N K Parmar, then Director General of the Armed Forces Medical Corps, taken to examine the possibility of reviving a British-era hospital.
That was in August 2009. The Indian Navy was taking a serious look at RAF Gan on the southern-most tip of the archipelago, about 450 nautical miles from the US base of Diego Garcia that the Britishers’ ‘Operation Concubine’ founded. India and the Maldives had just signed a defence cooperation treaty. Male was unabashed about its ‘India-first’ policy. Mohd Nasheed, who Antony had met a day earlier, was the president.
The Blue Lagoon is also a Cold War relic. The Soviets tried to buy it since the British left in 1976 but failed. The relic is still hot in the middle of an India-China proxy conflict in the Indian Ocean. But a new causeway that connects Hulhule, from where Antony’s Embraer took-off, to Male is built by the Chinese.
India was to set up a chain of 26 coastal radar stations that would be networked into the Indian Navy’s grid. Only three are functional. The fortified Blue Lagoon, that was once the cynosure of the Indian Navy for its potential as a watchpost to monitor Chinese traffic is now fading like the code, ‘concubine’.