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Katchatheevu Row: BJP, Congress Spar Over Island Dispute

In a press briefing held on Monday, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar echoed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion, accusing the opposition regarding the Katchatheevu island matter. This issue gained renewed attention following a media report from an RTI reply by Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai.

Jaishankar highlighted India’s historical involvement, including Jawaharlal Nehru’s consideration of handing over the island. The 1974 agreement recognized Katchatheevu as Sri Lankan territory. Concerns over Tamil Nadu fishermen’s mistreatment resurfaced due to recent media reports.

Jaishankar stressed the fairness of the agreement and the subsequent 1976 pact’s negative impact on Indian fishermen. He noted consistent parliamentary discussions and correspondence with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, underlining the issue’s ongoing significance.

Also Watch: Katchatheevu Island Dispute: Here’s All You Need To Know I BJP I Congress

On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on the X platform about the Katchatheevu matter. He said the DMK hasn’t acted to protect Tamil Nadu’s interests and criticized their inconsistency. He also said the Congress and DMK prioritize their family members and neglect others’ welfare. He stated that their indifference regarding Katchatheevu has hurt the livelihoods of fishermen and fisherwomen.

Katchatheevu, about 33 km from India’s Rameswaram coast, has been a disputed area between India and Sri Lanka since the time they were British colonies. The British attached it to the Madras Presidency, citing traditional claims of the Ramnad zamindari of Ramanathapuram.

After Independence, disputes arose over fishing rights around the island. Indira Gandhi’s government agreed to give it to Sri Lanka under the 1974 “Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Agreement to improve relations with Sri Lanka.”

At the time, the small, uninhabited island seemed unimportant. However, with China’s growing influence over Sri Lanka, the island’s significance has increased in recent years.

Most Indian fishermen facing action from Sri Lankan authorities are from Tamil Nadu. The DMK accused the Congress government of neglecting their views before signing the 1974 agreement with Sri Lanka.

Later in 2008 J Jayalalithaa’s government in Tamil Nadu consistently raised the issue, even going to court over it. Last year, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin wrote to PM Modi ahead of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s visit, urging discussion on the matter.

He reiterated concerns in subsequent letters, especially after numerous fishermen were arrested. In a February letter, he highlighted challenges to Tamil fishermen’s livelihood and a sharp rise in arrests, citing statistics from last year and recent incidents.

Responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s criticism of Indira Gandhi over the Katchatheevu island issue, Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge questioned why Modi didn’t try to reclaim it during his decade-long rule.

Kharge accused Modi of bringing up the sensitive topic close to elections out of desperation. He also criticized the PM for giving China a clean slate after Indian soldiers sacrificed their lives in the Galwan Valley.

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