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Center and Congress Dispute Over Katchatheevu Issue

The Congress government, led by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, ceded the disputed Katchathivu Island territory to Sri Lanka in a 1974 treaty.

A small island between India and Sri Lanka in the Strait of Palak has become a contentious issue ahead of the upcoming general elections in Tamil Nadu, where the BJP is campaigning for seats. The island, Kacchatheevu, was a disputed territory ceded to Sri Lanka in an agreement signed by the Congress government led by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared a message on social media to accuse the Congress of “apathy.” ” he gives Kacchatheevu.

In his post, PM Modi said, “Eye-opening and shocking! Another fact reveals how the Congress handcuffed Katchathivu on the sly. This has angered every Indian and strengthened people’s minds – we can’t take it.” we never trust Congress.”

PM Modi further alleged, “Weakening India’s unity, loyalty and interests has been the practice of the Congress for 75 years and more.” He shared a Times of India report supporting his claim, based on an RTI reply from Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai.

Later, at a rally in Meerut aimed at launching the BJP campaign in Uttar Pradesh, Modi reiterated the Katchathivu incident, linking it to the detention of Tamil fishermen and the occupation of the Sri Lankan army of their boats

Annamalai RTI had sought the Indira Gandhi government’s decision to cede details of the island to Sri Lanka, an issue that has long been debated by Tamil Nadu’s ruling DMK’s ally in the state and the Congress, and highlights the issue on Dravidian-dominated politics in Tamil Nadu The BJP is hoping to gain political traction.

The Controversy

Located about 33 km off the coast of India near Rameshwaram, Katchathivu Island has been a disputed territory between India and Sri Lanka since the days of British colonialism when both countries were British colonies. The island had originally been handed over to the Madras Presidency by the British, citing the traditional claims of Ramnad Zamindari of Ramanathapuram.

However, after independence, the dispute over fishing rights around the island resurfaced.

To resolve differences and strengthen ties with Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974 approved the cession of Katchathivu to the island nation through “India-Sri Lanka.” Sea Treaty” on the.

At the time, the uninhabited volcanic island, 1.6 kilometers long and about 300 meters wide, was considered of little strategic importance but the situation has evolved in recent decades due to the rise of China and its growing influence in Sri Lanka, changing the way it operates

Why Katchatheevu Is Important For Tamil Nadu

Most of the Indian fishermen who took part in the action of the Sri Lankan authorities after entering the waters around Katchathivu were from Tamil Nadu

The DMK, which ruled Tamil Nadu in 1974, demanded that the Congress government consult its views before signing an agreement with Sri Lanka on the island.

The J. Jayalalithaa-led government regularly raised the Katchathivu issue and had gone to courts over it.

Last year, before Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe visited India, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin wrote a letter to PM Modi asking him to discuss the issue during the talks.

Stalin wrote a letter to PM Modi again after Sri Lankan authorities arrested several fishermen.

In his letter dated February this year, he said, “Traditional fishing waters on which Tamil fishermen have relied for generations are being severely restricted, making it difficult to sustain them.” their lives, and it affects the economic stability of these communities. It’s also a threat to.” cultural and social fabric of the region in relation to the fishing industry”.

Stating that the number of arrests was on the rise, he added, “In 2023, the Sri Lankan Navy arrested 243 fishermen and seized 37 boats. But in the last 28 days alone, 88 fishermen and 12 boats were captured in six cases.”

In a Nutshell

Following PM Modi’s remarks on Kacchathivu, BJP and Congress leaders engaged in a war of words over the issue.

Senior DMK leader R.K. Bharti accused the chief minister of having “no progress” to disclose and accused him of spreading “lies”. Bharti questioned Modi’s sincerity, saying that if he was really interested in Kacchatheevu, he could have reclaimed the island during his 10 years as prime minister. “Why didn’t he accept Katchathivu’s offer?” Bharati asked.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge echoed similar sentiments. He said the Katchathivu island was ceded to Sri Lanka as part of a friendly treaty in 1974. Kharge also pointed out that the BJP-led government had taken a similar “friendly approach” towards Bangladesh in terms of changing border zone

The heated exchanges between the BJP and political opponents mean that the Katchathivu case has reignited a contentious political debate ahead of the upcoming elections.

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