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Opposition Hits Back Modi, Jaishankar over Charge of India “Conceding” Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka

Opposition Hits Back Modi, Jaishankar over Charge of India “Conceding” Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Apr 1: The opposition leaders have strongly criticised the External Affairs minister S Jaishankar for his endorsing the stand of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing the previous Congress government of “conceding” the Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka which contradicted the government’s statement in Parliament in 2015 when he was the foreign secretary.

In a sharp response to Dr S Jaishankar’s remarks on the Katchatheevu island row, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram questioned why the foreign minister is “doing a somersault” on the issue. Mr Chidambaram also said Dr Jaishankar’s journey from being a “suave liberal foreign service officer” to “a mouthpiece of the RSS-BJP” will be “recorded in the annals of acrobatic sports.”

The counter-strike came after Dr Jaishankar on Monday doubled down on Mr Modi’s charge at the Congress over the island row. Quoting decades-old discussions in Parliament, the minister said the governments led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were indifferent to the island. The Katchatheevu Island, he said, was a “nuisance” for Nehru. It was during the Indira Gandhi government’s tenure when India gave up fishing rights near the island, he said.

Mr Modi in a post on X, flagged a second news report on the issue that dealt with the DMK, under then Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi being in the know of the ceding of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka. “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. Congress and DMK are family units. They only care that their own sons and daughters rise. They don’t care for anyone else. Their callousness on Katchatheevu has harmed the interests of our poor fishermen and fisherwomen in particular,” he said in his post.

The matter has become a talking point following a media report based on an RTI reply received by Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai. Dr Jaishankar stressed that the matter has not emerged suddenly, saying that it was a “live issue.” He also said the Congress and the DMK were approaching the matter as if they have responsibility.

The recurrent arrests of Indian fishermen by Sri Lanka is an issue that finds resonance among the people. With the elections near, the BJP wants to play up this matter as it pushes for a better show in the southern state. The Prime Minister has accused the Congress of “callously” giving away the island to Sri Lanka and said the DMK had done nothing to safeguard Tamil Nadu’s interests.

Taking to X, Mr Chidambaram said, “It is true that Fishermen were detained in the last 50 years. Likewise, India has detained many SL fishermen. Every government has negotiated with Sri Lanka and freed our fishermen. This has happened when Mr Jaishankar was a foreign service officer and when he was Foreign Secretary and when he is Foreign Minister.”

“What has changed for Mr Jaishankar to launch a tirade against the Congress and DMK? Were not fishermen detained by Sri Lanka when Mr Vajpayee was PM and BJP was in power and in alliance with different political parties of TN? Were not fishermen detained by Sri Lanka when Mr Modi was in power since 2014?” he added.

The Congress leader said “tit for tat is old” and “tweet for tweet is the new weapon. “Will Foreign Minister Mr Jaishankar please refer to the RTI reply dated 27-1-2015. I believe that Mr Jaishankar was the foreign secretary on 27-1-2015. The Reply justified the circumstances under which India acknowledged that a small island belonged to Sri Lanka and the government had clearly stated the previous agreements did not “involve either acquiring or ceding of territory belonging to India.

Why is the Foreign Minister and his ministry doing a somersault now?” asked Mr Chidambaram, a Tamil Nadu leader and former Home Minister.  The Opposition leader asked if the “change of stance” by the Narendra Modi government was related to “election politics”.

He then took a personal swipe at the External Affairs Minister. “How quickly can people change colours. From a suave liberal Foreign Service officer to a smart Foreign Secretary to a mouthpiece of the RSS-BJP, life and times of Mr Jaishankar will be recorded in the annals of acrobatic sports,” he said, referring to the minister, who went from being a diplomat to joining the government.

Mr Chidambaram said the pact between India and Sri Lanka helped Tamil refugees from the island come and settle in India. “Why did Indira Gandhi acknowledge that it belonged to Sri Lanka? Millions of Tamils, as many as 6 lakh Tamils, were suffering in Sri Lanka. They had to come to India as refugees and settle here. As a result of this settlement, 6 lakh Tamils came to India. They have lived in this country for the last 50 years, their families are here. They enjoy freedom,” he said.

The DMK, too, has hit out at the BJP over the issue. DMK’s A Saravanan said the External Affairs Minister has said nothing new. “The question is why the BJP is raking up this issue now. Because they are scared, they know they are going to lose this election and in Tamil Nadu, they are facing a rout. The Prime Minister cannot answer the question, why no flood relief for Tamil Nadu. He is now bringing up false bogeys,” he said.

In a post on X, Shiv Sena-Uddhav Balasaheb Thackery (UBT) leader and Rajya Sabha member Priyanka Chaturvedi shared the 2015 RTI response from the MEA which said Katchatheevu Island lies on the Sri Lanka side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line that was delineated by the 1974 agreement demarcating it in the Palk Straits, and a subsequent 1976 agreement demarcating it in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal. “This did not involve either acquiring or ceding of territory belonging to India since the area in question had never been demarcated. Under the Agreements, the Island of Katchatheevu lies on the Sri Lankan side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line,” the MEA had said on January 27, 2015.

“Today, the Foreign Minister and yesterday the PM claimed it has been ‘ceded’ So is the change in stance for their election politics or has Modi-ji made a case for Sri Lanka?” Ms Chaturvedi asked. Former Union Minister Anand Sharma, in a post on X, said India’s strategic interests and relationships with its neighbours must not be lost to electoral narrative.

“India’s leaders must be mindful of the facts of History, sensitivities of the neighbours and country’s national interests,” Mr Sharma posted, adding, ”The accusation of surrendering territory against Indira ji who ensured the merger of Sikkim and liberation of Bangladesh is unwarranted and unfair.”

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh asked if the Minister of External Affairs was “disowning the reply given by the Ministry of External Affairs when the same Dr Jaishankar was Foreign Secretary.” “The easiest to hunt in a political expedition is a scapegoat. Who will it be?” Mr Ramesh asked.

Hitting back at Mr Modi, several Congress leaders asked Mr Modi to talk about alleged Chinese incursions into Indian territory. “Just like the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh, Katchatheevu was done out of friendship. But what you are doing with China is out of fear,” Congress leader Pawan Khera alleged. “Chinese troops have come into thousands of kilometres into our territory. Sonam Wangchuk has been raising it in Ladakh, your MP from Arunachal Pradesh Tapir Gao has raised. And you gave a clean chit to China with your eyes closed. That is fear,” Mr Khera said.




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