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Katchatheevu Island Row – Why did the controversy resurface ahead of LS polls?

A tiny island between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Strait called Katchatheevu has resurfaced in Tamil Nadu as a political flashpoint.

Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India has slammed Congress and the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) over the Katchatheevu Island row. He said that Tamil Nadu’s ruling alliance parties have done nothing to safeguard the state’s interests. In the run-up to the Lok Sabha Elections 2024, the dispute is intensified by the Prime Minister’s accusations against the opposition.

PM Narendra Modi posted on X, citing a report by the Times of India, “Rhetoric aside, DMK has done nothing to safeguard Tamil Nadu’s interests. New details emerging on Katchatheevu have unmasked the DMK’s double standards totally.”

Political Flashpoint

A tiny island between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Strait called Katchatheevu has resurfaced in Tamil Nadu as a political flashpoint. Here, BJP is trying to make inroads just ahead of the Lok Sabha Elections.

The late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ceded the island to Sri Lanka , through an agreement in 1974, because its was just a disputed area. But BJP being led by PM Modi has launched a scathing attack on the Opposition Congress and the DMK because they callously gave away the strategic island to Sri Lanka.

On Monday, the PM dug into a report that said although the DMK publicly postured against the deal, the then Tamil Nadu CM, M Karunanidhi had given consent to the agreement.

Right after Narendra Modi’s post on Monday, the External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister wanted to give away the island to Sri Lanka.

The issue resurfaced because of a media report based on RTI reply to a filed query by Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai. It is from the reply that revealed that the former PM, late Indira Gandhi had ceded the island to Sri Lanka in 1974.

On March 31st, citing another report on the RTI response, PM Modi posted on X, “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.”

Questionable Timing

In Uttar Pradesh, BJP’s campaign was flagged off where PM Modi also mentioned the issues during the rally in Meerut. He went on to linking the island row with Tamil fishermen and the seizure of their boats by the Lankan forces. Jaishankar took the cue from the PM and repeated the charges to put Congress on the defensive.

Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress chief questioned the timing of the issue being raised by the Prime Minister. He went on further to say that the island was given to Sri Lanka was a part of a friendly gesture during the agreement in 1974. He also brought out the fact that the BJP government have themselves undertaken similar “friendly gestures” towards Bangladesh related to the exchange of border enclaves.

RS Bharathi, the senior DMK leader went on to say, “If PM Modi was keen on Katchatheevu, he could have reclaimed that island during his 10 years in office. Why didn’t he take up the Katchatheevu issue?”. She further that the PM had “no achievements” to showcase and hence and spreading only “lies”.

The Controversy

Katchatheevy Island is a 285-acre stretch located about 33 kilometers from the Indian coast in the Palk Strait. Both country’s fishermen used the island, which was initially a part of Madras Presidency.

The island has been a disputed territory since the British era. Suddenly a dispute has broken after Independence as to now who has fishing rights over and around the island.

Indira Gandhi at that time thought how the island barely had any strategic value to it. So, she decided to give it away to Sri Lanka in 1974 in the “Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Agreement.”

But now, over the last decade the geopolitical dimensions have changed. The rising clout of China and its growing influence over Sri Lanka. That’s making it a location of strategic importance for India.

Oindrila Saha
Oindrila Saha
I'm Oindrila, fueled by a love for creative writing and crime fiction. With a Bachelor's in English Honours, I've spent three years as a writer. From childhood, English Literature held me spellbound, shaping my path. Outside of writing, I cherish reading, recording content, cooking, and time with loved ones. My aspiration? To continue weaving compelling tales that resonate with readers.
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