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'Can’t ever trust Congress': Modi slams Congress for 'callously giving away' strategic Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka
Photo courtesy: Screen grab from video tweeted by Sansad TV/ wikipedia.org

'Can’t ever trust Congress': Modi slams Congress for 'callously giving away' strategic Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka

India Blooms news Service | @indiablooms | 31 Mar 2024, 01:40 pm

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday slammed Congress for "callously giving away" control of the island of Katchatheevu.

The island of Katchatheevu in the Palk Strait between Sri Lanka and India's Tamil Nadu state has garnered national attention after four decades.

“Eye opening and startling! New facts reveal how Congress callously gave away #Katchatheevu. This has angered every Indian and reaffirmed in people’s minds — we can’t ever trust Congress!” he posted on X.

The Prime Minister's statement follows the revelation from documents obtained by BJP Tamil Nadu chief K Annamalai, suggesting that the Congress had not placed significant value on the small, uninhabited island.

The Times of India reported that according to these documents, Jawaharlal Nehru once stated that he wouldn't hesitate to completely relinquish claims to the island.

Congress’s ally DMK, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, alleges that Katchatheevu was “given away” to Sri Lanka without consulting the Tamil Nadu state assembly. At the time itself, there were fervent protests against Indira Gandhi’s decision, citing the historical control of the Ramnad zamindari over the island and traditional fishing rights of Indian Tamil fishermen.

The Sri Lankan navy has consistently arrested Indian fishermen, and numerous allegations of custodial torture and fatalities have surfaced. Each time such incidents occur, there is a resurgence in the demand for the retrieval of Katchatheevu, according to media reports.

Background

Until the 17th century, the island was controlled by the Jaffna kingdom of Sri Lanka. After that, its authority passed to the Ramnad Zamindari based out of Ramanathapuram, about 55 km northwest of Rameswaram.

In the British Raj, Katchatheevu was part of the Madras Presidency. In 1921, a dispute arose after a survey marked Katchatheevu in Sri Lanka. This was done to find a solution to the claims of India and Sri Lanka on the island as both countries, British colonies at the time, wanted to set fishing boundaries.

However, a British delegation from India disputed this claim and asserted ownership of the island by the Ramnad kingdom.

In 1974, Indira Gandhi made efforts to resolve the maritime border dispute between India and Sri Lanka permanently.

As part of this resolution, which came to be known as the 'Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Agreement', Indira Gandhi 'ceded' Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka. During that period, she believed that the island held minimal strategic significance and that relinquishing India's claim over it would strengthen diplomatic relations with its southern neighbour.

To this day, the Sri Lankan navy frequently detains Indian fishermen, leading to numerous accusations of torture and even fatalities while in custody. The call to reclaim Katchatheevu is resurrected whenever such incidents occur, emphasising its significance in the ongoing disputes between the two nations.

Tamil Nadu has repeatedly urged the Central governments under various leaderships to retrieve the island from Sri Lanka’s control.

Indira Gandhi’s decision to cede the island to Sri Lanka had met with massive protests in the state.

Following India's tumultuous involvement in the Sri Lankan Civil War in 1991, the Tamil Nadu Assembly once again pushed for the retrieval of Katchatheevu and the restoration of fishing rights for Tamil fishermen. This issue has consistently resurfaced in Tamil politics since then.

In 2008, J Jayalalitha, the then-leader of AIADMK, filed a petition asserting that Katchatheevu couldn't be transferred to another country without a constitutional amendment. The petition argued that the 1974 agreement had adversely impacted traditional fishing rights and the livelihoods of Indian fishermen.

In 2011, when Jayalalitha became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, she introduced a resolution in the State Assembly and later, in 2012, approached the Supreme Court to expedite her petition due to the escalating arrests of Indian fishermen by Sri Lanka.

China angle

Apart from fishing rights, Katchatheevu has been a cause of concern due to China’s growing presence in cash-strapped Sri Lanka. According to experts, the island can allow China a strategic location to influence maritime movement in the area and set up a naval base as part of its aggressive geopolitical ambitions.

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