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A bone of contention between DMK and AIADMK, Katchatheecvu takes centre stage ahead of Lok Sabha polls

A bone of contention between DMK and AIADMK, Katchatheecvu takes centre stage ahead of Lok Sabha polls

The emotive issue of Katchatheevu, a tiny island ceded to Sri Lanka by the Indian government in 1974 has always been a bone of contention between late Chief Ministers M Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa and the latter even vowed to retrieve the islet as a part of addressing the fishermen's issues.

The uninhabited island was ceded in 1974 when the then Prime MInister Indira Gandhi accepted Katchatheevu as Sri Lankan area under the Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime agreement with her counterpart Srimavo Bandaranaike, aimed at resolving the maritime boundaries in the Palk Strait.

Further, another agreement signed in 1976 restricted the fishermen of both the countries from fishing in the other’s exclusive economic zones.

With Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday training his guns against the Congress and its ally DMK, in power at the Centre and the state, respectively then, the issue has now assumed centre stage in the poll season, just days ahead of the April 19 general election in Tamil Nadu. The BJP is blaming the Congress and DMK for ceding the islet.

DMK President and Chief Minister M K Stalin hit out at Modi for his criticism of his party on the matter, questioning the BJP's "sudden love" for fishermen ahead of the elections and questioned the PM on issues including the Rs 37,000 crore flood relief packages sought by the state,

In Tamil Nadu, political parties and fishers' associations have been for long insisting that the retrieval of Katchatheevu from Sri Lanka is the only solution to the frequent arrests of the state's fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy for alleged maritime violation.

They assert the Indian fishermen have traditional fishing rights on the contentious island. The Lankan navy has made several arrests from the area in the past.

Incidentally, Jayalalithaa had even moved the Supreme Court for the islet's retrieval in her personal capacity. Later, the the state government, headed by the AIADMK had impleaded itself in the case.

PM Modi, flaying Congress and the DMK for their role on Monday, said that “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.”

In a post on the social media platform X, he said the Congress and DMK are family units and that 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 fisher women in particular,” the Prime Minister said.

Keeping up the heat on the Congress and DMK, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday claimed that prime ministers from the national party displayed indifference about Katchatheevu island. He said Karunanidhi was kept informed of the move and attacked the DMK over its public posturing against the agreement.

In the past, as CM, Karunanidhi had written to Indira Gandhi on how the piece of land was historically a part of Ramnad's zamindari.

The Katchatheevu retrieval issue had been a subject of intense debate between the Dravidian majors. In June 2016, then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa accused Karunanidhi of doing “nothing” to prevent the ceding.

She even likened DMK to ‘Rip Van Winkle,’ an easygoing character from an English short story who goes on a slumber for 20 years, for 'sleeping' over the issue and raising it then in the Assembly.

Karunanidhi, however, sought to know from her what she had been doing since 1991 when she promised to retrieve it.

He had claimed he never accepted the ceding nor did he agree to it. He said had expressed my opposition then as the Chief Minister of the state.

Despite the assembly passing a resolution in 1992 seeking the islet’s retrieval, Jayalalithaa as the then Chief Minister had told the House that there was no sign of it happening in the nearest future, he had claimed.

In 1994, Jayalalithaa took up the issue with then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, and stated that the “ceding of this tiny island to Lanka had been done by the Government of India in the interest of better bilateral relations.”

On another occasion, she had written to the Centre saying the "best possible solution" to the matter was to get the islet and adjacent seas on "lease in perpetuity."

In June 2016, Jayalalithaa met PM Modi and sought for the retrieval of Katchatheevu and resolve the long-standing dispute between the fishermen of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.

In a detailed letter to party men, Karunanidhi later recalled a resolution moved by him in the Assembly in August 1974, expressing 'deep regret' over the then Central government’s move to cede the islet in the Palk Strait, besides calling for a review of the decision.

Also, he had said that he wrote to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, expressing “deep sense of disappointment” over the Indo-Lankan agreement. There was a "sudden announcement" on the Centre’s decision in this regard and after coming across reports about it, he had immediately contacted state opposition leaders "and we had always shown concern in this matter and never been a party to the ceding," he said.

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