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Raking up Katchatheevu won’t help BJP, say political observers

Trying to blame Congress and DMK might prove counter-productive for the saffron party, they argue.

Raking up Katchatheevu won’t help BJP, say political observers

Protesters venture into the sea demanding retrieval of Katchatheevu (file)

CHENNAI: Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls the BJP has tried to stoke a controversy over the decades-old Katchatheevu issue, ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974, which political observers believe will be counter-productive for the saffron party.

On Sunday, the BJP-banking on information obtained through the RTI Act by its State president K Annamalai-amplified the Katchatheevu issue on social media and other platforms. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top leaders of BJP voiced out on the issue.

But senior journalist and political critic Tharasu Shyam, who has widely reported on the issue, said that efforts to put Congress and DMK on the mat over the issue can boomerang on BJP. They have been trying to build a narrative that Congress ceded away the isle, located about 25 km away from Rameshwaram in 1974, while the M Karunanidhi-led DMK government in the state remained a mute spectator, trying to put all the blame on the two parties for the problems fishermen face today, Shyam said. “It is untrue to say that the DMK government and its CM (M Karunanidhi) did not protest. A resolution was passed in the Assembly against the Centre’s decision and a series of protests organised by the ruling party then,” he said.

The country’s first nuclear test-Pokhran I- named as ‘Operation Smiling Budhha’ was one of the key factors for the Union Government to consider the demand of the Sri Lankan government to hand over the isle to them. “After the successful nuclear test on May 18, 1974, at Pokhran, the Indian government was facing pressure from the international community. The Pakistani government approached the United Nations and moved a resolution calling for sanctions against India for conducting the nuclear test. The Indian government reached out to friendly nations to defeat Pakistan’s move. The Sri Lankan government agreed to it. But in return, it requested for Katchatheevu,” said Shyam. The senior journalist also hit out at the BJP leaders for raking up the issue without knowing the historical context.

Former head of the Department of Political Science, University of Madras, Prof Ramu Manivannan also agreed that the Pokhran-I nuclear test was one of the factors for the decision to cede Katchatheevu. He, however, said that both the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Sri Lankan counterpart Sirimavo Bandaranaike had very cordial ‘political and personal’ ties. “It played a role in the Indo-Sri Lanka Maritime agreement in 1974,” he said. The DMK resorted to protests (against the Centre’s decision) and even took the fight to the Parliament, the political scientist said. “However, it did fail to find a logical conclusion to the issue,” he added.

A former MLA, representing a party which is part of the BJP-led NDA, on condition of anonymity, said that it was a diplomatic move of the Indian government. “The then PM wanted to keep China away from Sri Lanka, which in turn, asked for the isle. For the larger good, the Indian government took the decision,” said. The issue would neither help the BJP nor the alliance in the polls, said the former legislator.

Meanwhile, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh hit back at the BJP in a social media post stating that history is twisted and distorted by the BJP. “Congress leaders are defamed, ignoring the circumstances and contexts in which these decisions were taken,” he said.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge lambasted Modi in his post on X by stating that the PM has suddenly woken up to the issues of territorial integrity and national security in his 10th year of misrule. “Perhaps, elections are the trigger. Your desperation is palpable,” he said. Pointing out the transfer of enclaves between Bangladesh and India, Kharge said it has been carried out under the Modi regime in a friendly gesture. In 1974, a similar agreement, based on a friendly gesture, was initiated with another country on Katchatheevu, he added.

Shanmugha Sundaram J
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