The Katchatheevu Dilemma: Searching Over and above the Electoral Lens

The Katchatheevu Dilemma: Searching Over and above the Electoral Lens

The revival of the Katchatheevu island issue, a once-solved maritime issue between India and Sri Lanka, has brought a new twist to India’s electoral campaign, even as the seven-phased standard election is established to commence on April 19. It has palpable implications for the two key functions below the opposition INDIA alliance—the Indian Nationwide Congress (INC) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a regional bash in the south Indian condition of Tamil Nadu (TN). Each INC and DMK are now put under scanner for compromising India’s nationwide desire.

It all began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on Katchatheevu, sparking a new wave of contestations. Modi’s characterization of the situation as ‘eye-opening and startling’ indicated the common community outcry it incited, casting question on the trustworthiness of the INC-led government’s determination to cede manage of the island. New disclosures brought to light-weight by TN leaders of BJP—hinting at the Congress government’s willingness to abandon claims above Katchatheevu—have fuelled Modi’s criticism.

A day immediately after Modi’s remarks, India’s Minister of External Affairs (EAM), S. Jaishankar, also released a scathing assault on the INC and DMK, accusing them of shirking responsibility concerning the Katchatheevu concern. Addressing a press convention in Delhi, Jaishankar emphasized the public’s ideal to transparency regarding the circumstances encompassing the relinquishment of Katchatheevu. He mentioned: “In Might of 1961, PM Nehru wrote that he attaches no importance at all to this little island and he would have no hesitation in offering up assert to it. He wrote that he does not like make any difference like this staying pending indefinitely and staying raised once more and once more in Parliament. He noticed it as a nuisance.” Jaishankar questioned the motives at the rear of surrendering not only the island but also the fishing rights of Indian fishermen, in spite of assurances specified to Parliament in 1976. Jaishankar elucidated the 1974 agreement amongst India and Sri Lanka, which delineated a maritime boundary, positioning Katchatheevu on the Sri Lankan side. He stressed the need for diplomatic dialogue with Sri Lankan authorities to find resolution. Furnishing context to the situation, Jaishankar highlighted the alarming frequency of Indian fishermen getting detained and their vessels seized by Sri Lanka in excess of the past two many years. This, he asserted, types the backdrop of the ongoing discussions.

Jaishankar dismissed the idea that the situation had arisen abruptly, citing correspondence from the Main Minister of Tamil Nadu and his very own intensive engagement with the issue. He emphasised that this is not a dormant concern but somewhat a pressing issue demanding fast notice. In addition, Jaishankar pointed out that in the final twenty several years, 6184 Indian fishermen have been detained by Sri Lanka and 1175 Indian fishing vessels have been seized, detained, or apprehended by Sri Lanka.

As EAM stated, the difficulty experienced emerged numerous instances ahead of, with escalating incidents of Indian fishermen remaining arrested by the Lankan navy. For instance, on July 21, 2022, in reply to a question on the ownership ideal of Katchatheevu island raised by Vaiko in the Rajya Sabha, the minister of condition in the Ministry of Exterior Affairs claimed:  “The Govt of India concluded maritime boundary agreements with Sri Lanka in 1974 and 1976. Less than the Agreements, the Island of Katchatheevu lies on the Sri Lankan aspect of the India-Sri Lanka Worldwide Maritime Boundary Line. Now, the issue relating to the Katchatheevu Island challenge is sub-judice in the Hon’ble Supreme Court docket of India.” The minister also observed that the challenges pertaining to Indian fishermen ended up taken up as a result of diplomatic channels and recognized mechanisms.

Katchatheevu, located in the Palk Strait in between India and Sri Lanka, was a focal position of maritime dispute and political manoeuvrings. Aside from its religious importance—particularly with St. Anthony’s church—the geopolitical price of the island experienced captivated the attention of each countries. Nevertheless, in 1974, below Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s management, India relinquished handle of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka as section of the Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Agreement. Though aimed at strengthening bilateral ties, worries ended up also lifted about its impact on the standard legal rights of Indian fishermen.

Still, the transfer of Katchatheevu has remained contentious, significantly in TN politics, wherever sentiments are affected by historical ties and fears for fishermen’s livelihoods. Leaders like J Jayalalitha and Main Minister MK Stalin vehemently opposed the determination, arguing that it was made without consulting the Tamil Nadu point out assembly and experienced adverse consequences on Tamil fishermen.

The decades-extensive Sri Lankan civil war further challenging matters, temporarily diverting consideration from the maritime problem but reigniting tensions post-war. This led to incidents involving Indian fishermen staying apprehended by the Sri Lankan navy. Regardless of these issues, calls for for revisiting the Katchatheevu issue persisted, reflecting deep-rooted issues and political significance in the broader geopolitical context of the Indian Ocean area.

Through a parliamentary discussion very last year, Prime Minister Modi indirectly criticized users of the ruling DMK in TN, reminding them of their late leader M Karunanidhi’s job in consenting to the transfer of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka. This remark sparked reactions in Sri Lanka, with some deciphering it as a delicate simply call for India to reclaim Katchatheevu. However, mainstream Sri Lankan get-togethers refrained from commenting, potentially thanks to India’s considerable support for the duration of Sri Lanka’s financial crisis.

In simple fact, the reference to Katchatheevu by Modi, very last calendar year, coincided with efforts to enhance bilateral economic cooperation amongst India and Sri Lanka, such as projects like underwater petroleum pipelines and energy cable connections. Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickremesinghe’s proposal for a road linkage concerning the two international locations also drew interest. On the other hand, observers experienced warned that any perceived shift in India’s stance on Katchatheevu could impact these efforts and jeopardize plans for the road linkage challenge, aimed at boosting trade and tourism.

Katchatheevu, while a little uninhabited island, retains major historic and religious relevance for Tamil fishermen from both equally India and Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, controversies emerged, these kinds of as the discovery of a Buddha statue on the island, prompting problems and diplomatic responses from both of those international locations. The ongoing dispute above Katchatheevu ongoing after the bilateral agreements in 1974 and 1976, which assigned the island to Sri Lanka, inspite of objections from Indian fishermen and Tamil Nadu politicians.

Nonetheless, Sri Lanka consistently maintained a coverage rooted in historic facts about the possession of Katchatheevu, working out jurisdiction and management in excess of the island. Evidence dating back to 1924, in accordance to Colombo, suggested that Survey Officers of the Govt of India recognized Katchatheevu as aspect of then Ceylon as early as 1876. More, Katchatheevu has been below Sri Lankan jurisdiction considering that the period of Portuguese and British rule.

It is legitimate that the situation of Katchatheevu to begin with surfaced in 1921 in the course of conversations to demarcate fisheries boundaries between India and Ceylon. Subsequent bilateral talks dealt with maritime boundary delineation, culminating in the 1974 Agreement regarding historic waters in the Palk Strait and Palk Bay, officially affirming Sri Lanka’s sovereignty in excess of the island. Short article 4 of the Settlement establishes each individual state’s sovereignty and exceptional jurisdiction over their respective maritime boundaries, which include Katchatheevu island inside Sri Lankan waters. Post five guarantees that Indian fishermen and pilgrims retain accessibility to Katchatheevu without having the need for vacation files or visas, whilst Short article 6 preserves the classic navigational legal rights of vessels from equally Sri Lanka and India in each and every other’s waters.

The preparatory notes leading to the finalization of the rights of the two parties indicated that beneath Article 5, pilgrims’ legal rights have been minimal to attending the once-a-year church feast, when fishermen ended up granted obtain to dry their nets and catch. Consequently, thinking about the provisions of both Posting five and 6 together, Sri Lanka argued, it is apparent that no fishing legal rights are conferred on Indian fishermen or vessels to interact in fishing in Sri Lankan waters. In continuation of this system, an Settlement on the Maritime Boundary in between Sri Lanka and India in the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal, together with connected issues, was signed in 1976. This Agreement even more elucidated the positions set up by the 1974 Settlement in between the two nations. Post 5 of the 1976 Arrangement stipulates the next:

Each and every Get together shall workout sovereignty above the historic waters, territorial sea, and islands falling inside its respective boundary. Every Bash shall keep sovereign rights and distinctive jurisdiction around the Continental Shelf and the Distinctive Economic Zone (EEZ), as perfectly as their resources, whether or not residing or non-dwelling, inside its boundary. Every Occasion shall regard navigation legal rights by its territorial sea and unique financial zone in accordance with its guidelines, rules, and global law.  Colombo argued that these provisions go away no doubt relating to fishing legal rights. TN leaders always contested this position.

The historical assert around Katchatheevu remained contentious till the mid-seventies, with both equally India and Sri Lanka asserting ownership primarily based on conflicting historic documents. Whilst India’s acquiescence to the cession of Katchatheevu can be attributed to political and strategic concerns, the difficulty ongoing to be politically delicate, especially in Tamil Nadu.

Despite lawful problems and political rhetoric, successive Indian governments have affirmed Katchatheevu’s status as Sri Lankan territory, signalling a reluctance to reopen negotiations on the matter. This place is broken now. This is definitely the first time that the ruling NDA’s prime echelons have arrive out in open up with a placement that the INC and DMK were being not straightforward on the Katchatheevu issue which remained a sophisticated and contentious facet of India-Sri Lanka maritime boundary, with political, financial, and historical proportions. Prime Minister Modi’s remarks, as nicely as EAM’s press convention, have activated debates and raised fears about the implications for bilateral cooperation and regional steadiness.

The worries of Tamil men and women are purely natural supplied the long historical past of the fishermen becoming regularly arrested. Now, there is a issue looming: Can the 1974 and 1976 agreements be terminated primarily based on evidence of the violations of their provisions? For the ruling dispensation in New Delhi, which aims to make electoral gains in South India, the concern carries major body weight. They know that the difficulty could open a new and sensitive entrance in the ongoing electoral struggle, with accusations from the former INC and DMK governments of surrendering India’s nationwide passions. For the folks of Tamil Nadu, the concern is not just sensitive but also a issue of everyday living and livelihood, with profound implications for their every day life and economic effectively-becoming.

K.M. Seethi is ICSSR Senior Fellow and the Educational Advisor of the Worldwide Centre for Polar Scientific studies at Mahatma Gandhi College, Kerala. He also served as Senior Professor and Dean of Worldwide Relations at MGU. The sights and thoughts expressed in this post are these of the author.

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