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Don’t stake Sri Lanka ties for narrow gains

Don’t stake Sri Lanka ties for narrow gains

The PM is using a small island as a political chip
Last Updated 02 April 2024, 22:50 IST

It is unfortunate that an issue which has a bearing on India’s relations with a neighbouring country has been raked up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi solely on narrow electoral considerations. He has said the island of Katchatheevu was wrongly given away to Sri Lanka by India, and former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, besides the Congress, had compromised national interest by “callously” handling the matter. He has also said that “new details” on the matter have “unmasked” the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)’s double standards because the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi had given his concurrence to the 1974 agreement which gave away the island, though his party had taken a public position against it. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has supported Modi’s contention.

Political parties in Tamil Nadu have occasionally expressed unhappiness over the agreement on the island and demanded its retrieval. But there was no strong demand or agitation for it. No subsequent government, including the one led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has had a different opinion on it. The Supreme Court was told by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2013 that India had no historical claim to the island, and there was no ceding of Indian territory to Sri Lanka. The Rajya Sabha was told by the current government in
2022 that “Katchatheevu lies on the Sri Lankan side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line.” The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in July 2014 explained the provisions of the 1974 and 1976 agreements to the Madras High Court and said that the status of the island was a settled matter. An RTI reply given by the MEA in 2015 also
said Katchatheevu was neither acquired nor ceded, and lay on the Sri Lankan side of the Maritime Boundary Line. Other historical documents also support this position. 

It is wrong and unwise to rake up such a well-settled matter after so many years. Political parties have their views on many issues and may express them with an eye on political or electoral gains. But the prime minister should be more responsible in making statements on sensitive matters. His statement could have the potential to incite parochial sentiments in Tamil Nadu and hurt bilateral relations with Sri Lanka. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to make an electoral impact in Tamil Nadu. But Modi should not put the party’s electoral interests above more important considerations. Karunanidhi should be commended for his statesmanship in the matter, just as Vajpayee should be for not reviewing it when he was the prime minister, though he had opposed it in 1974. 

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