April 16, 2024

Katchatheevu is located around 33 km from the Indian coast near Rameswaram

New Delhi:

A tiny island between India and Sri Lanka on Palk Straight has become the latest flashpoint between the Congress and the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

The island of Katchatheevu, a disputed area, was given to Sri Lanka by the Congress government headed by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi through an agreement in 1974.

Katchatheevu — around 33 km from the Indian coast near Rameswaram — has been a disputed territory between India and Sri Lanka since the British period. Back then both nations were British colonies. The British, citing the traditional claims of the Ramnad zamindari of Ramanathapuram, had attached it to the Madras Presidency.

But the dispute broke out again after Independence over fishing rights around the island.

To settle the discord and strengthen ties with Sri Lanka, the government headed by Indira Gandhi had agreed to cede it to island nation under the 1974 “Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime agreement”.

At the time, the uninhabited volcanic island — 1.6 km in length and around 300 m wide — was thought to have little strategic value. But over the last decades, the situation has changed owing to the rise of China and its growing influence over Sri Lanka.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi last evening asserted that the Congress “callously” gave it away to Sri Lanka. “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,” PM Modi posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Doubling down on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charge at Opposition over the Katchatheevu island row, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar today said Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first Prime Minister, wanted to give away the island to Sri Lanka.

Responding to the remarks, senior DMK leader RS Bharathi said the Prime Minister has “no achievements” to showcase . “If PM Modi was keen on Katchatheevu, he could have reclaimed that island during his 10 years in office. Why did not he take up the Katchatheevu issue?” Mr Bharathi said.

The argument has been seconded by Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge. The Katchatheevu island was given to Sri Lanka as part of a friendly agreement in 1974, Mr Kharge added, pointing out that the BJP-led government too had undertaken a similar “friendly gesture” towards Bangladesh on exchange of border enclaves.

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