The Katchatheevu Problem: Searching Past the Electoral Lens

The Katchatheevu Problem: Searching Past the Electoral Lens

The revival of the Katchatheevu island difficulty, a after-fixed maritime challenge concerning India and Sri Lanka, has introduced a new twist to India’s electoral campaign, even as the seven-phased basic election is set to commence on April 19. It has palpable implications for the two important parties underneath the opposition INDIA alliance—the Indian Countrywide Congress (INC) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a regional get together in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu (TN). Both equally INC and DMK are now place below scanner for compromising India’s national interest.

It all commenced with Primary Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks on Katchatheevu, sparking a new wave of contestations. Modi’s characterization of the problem as ‘eye-opening and startling’ indicated the common community outcry it incited, casting doubt on the trustworthiness of the INC-led government’s final decision to cede handle of the island. Modern disclosures introduced to light by TN leaders of BJP—hinting at the Congress government’s willingness to abandon statements above Katchatheevu—have fuelled Modi’s criticism.

A working day right after Modi’s comments, India’s Minister of External Affairs (EAM), S. Jaishankar, also released a scathing assault on the INC and DMK, accusing them of shirking obligation about the Katchatheevu problem. Addressing a push conference in Delhi, Jaishankar emphasized the public’s proper to transparency about the circumstances bordering the relinquishment of Katchatheevu. He claimed: “In May possibly of 1961, PM Nehru wrote that he attaches no significance at all to this minimal island and he would have no hesitation in giving up assert to it. He wrote that he doesn’t like issue like this being pending indefinitely and getting lifted yet again and again in Parliament. He observed it as a nuisance.” Jaishankar questioned the motives powering surrendering not only the island but also the fishing legal rights of Indian fishermen, regardless of assurances provided to Parliament in 1976. Jaishankar elucidated the 1974 agreement amongst India and Sri Lanka, which delineated a maritime boundary, placing Katchatheevu on the Sri Lankan side. He pressured the need to have for diplomatic dialogue with Sri Lankan authorities to request resolution. Furnishing context to the issue, Jaishankar highlighted the alarming frequency of Indian fishermen being detained and their vessels seized by Sri Lanka over the previous two a long time. This, he asserted, sorts the backdrop of the ongoing discussions.

Jaishankar dismissed the idea that the problem experienced arisen all of a sudden, citing correspondence from the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and his possess intensive engagement with the make a difference. He emphasised that this is not a dormant concern but rather a pressing difficulty demanding speedy awareness. In addition, Jaishankar pointed out that in the last 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 claimed, the concern experienced emerged several times just before, with raising incidents of Indian fishermen getting arrested by the Lankan navy. For instance, on July 21, 2022, in reply to a dilemma on the ownership right of Katchatheevu island elevated by Vaiko in the Rajya Sabha, the minister of condition in the Ministry of Exterior Affairs explained:  “The Govt of India concluded maritime boundary agreements with Sri Lanka in 1974 and 1976. Underneath the Agreements, the Island of Katchatheevu lies on the Sri Lankan aspect of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line. At the moment, the subject relating to the Katchatheevu Island difficulty is sub-judice in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.” The minister also mentioned that the difficulties pertaining to Indian fishermen were taken up by means of diplomatic channels and set up mechanisms.

Katchatheevu, found in the Palk Strait concerning India and Sri Lanka, was a focal position of maritime dispute and political manoeuvrings. Aside from its spiritual importance—particularly with St. Anthony’s church—the geopolitical price of the island experienced captivated the notice of the two international locations. Nonetheless, in 1974, beneath Key Minister Indira Gandhi’s management, India relinquished manage of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka as component of the Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Arrangement. Though aimed at strengthening bilateral ties, concerns had been also elevated about its impact on the conventional rights of Indian fishermen.

Nevertheless, the transfer of Katchatheevu has remained contentious, specially in TN politics, the place sentiments are influenced by historic ties and worries for fishermen’s livelihoods. Leaders like J Jayalalitha and Main Minister MK Stalin vehemently opposed the decision, arguing that it was produced without having consulting the Tamil Nadu condition assembly and experienced adverse effects on Tamil fishermen.

The a long time-prolonged Sri Lankan civil war additional challenging matters, briefly diverting focus from the maritime problem but reigniting tensions submit-war. This led to incidents involving Indian fishermen getting apprehended by the Sri Lankan navy. Inspite of these difficulties, needs for revisiting the Katchatheevu problem persisted, reflecting deep-rooted worries and political significance in the broader geopolitical context of the Indian Ocean location.

Throughout a parliamentary debate previous 12 months, Key Minister Modi indirectly criticized users of the ruling DMK in TN, reminding them of their late leader M Karunanidhi’s position in consenting to the transfer of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka. This remark sparked reactions in Sri Lanka, with some decoding it as a delicate get in touch with for India to reclaim Katchatheevu. Nevertheless, mainstream Sri Lankan get-togethers refrained from commenting, potentially due to India’s considerable assistance all through Sri Lanka’s economic disaster.

In point, the reference to Katchatheevu by Modi, very last 12 months, coincided with efforts to boost bilateral financial cooperation among India and Sri Lanka, such as tasks like underwater petroleum pipelines and electricity cable connections. Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickremesinghe’s proposal for a highway linkage in between the two nations also drew focus. Even so, observers experienced warned that any perceived change in India’s stance on Katchatheevu could effects these initiatives and jeopardize options for the street linkage challenge, aimed at boosting trade and tourism.

Katchatheevu, nevertheless a compact uninhabited island, retains substantial historic and religious value for Tamil fishermen from the two India and Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, controversies emerged, these kinds of as the discovery of a Buddha statue on the island, prompting concerns and diplomatic responses from both international locations. The ongoing dispute more than Katchatheevu continued immediately after the bilateral agreements in 1974 and 1976, which assigned the island to Sri Lanka, in spite of objections from Indian fishermen and Tamil Nadu politicians.

Even so, Sri Lanka constantly managed a policy rooted in historical points relating to the possession of Katchatheevu, doing exercises jurisdiction and management more than the island. Evidence courting again to 1924, in accordance to Colombo, suggested that Study Officers of the Federal government of India acknowledged Katchatheevu as component of then Ceylon as early as 1876. Further, Katchatheevu has been less than Sri Lankan jurisdiction considering the fact that the era of Portuguese and British rule.

It is accurate that the concern of Katchatheevu to begin with surfaced in 1921 in the course of conversations to demarcate fisheries boundaries in between India and Ceylon. Subsequent bilateral talks resolved maritime boundary delineation, culminating in the 1974 Arrangement relating to historic waters in the Palk Strait and Palk Bay, formally affirming Sri Lanka’s sovereignty about the island. Article 4 of the Arrangement establishes just about every state’s sovereignty and exclusive jurisdiction over their respective maritime boundaries, including Katchatheevu island inside Sri Lankan waters. Report 5 guarantees that Indian fishermen and pilgrims retain access to Katchatheevu with no the have to have for travel files or visas, whilst Posting six preserves the traditional navigational legal rights of vessels from both Sri Lanka and India in each individual other’s waters.

The preparatory notes top to the finalization of the legal rights of the two get-togethers indicated that below Write-up 5, pilgrims’ rights had been constrained to attending the annual church feast, although fishermen ended up granted obtain to dry their nets and capture. Consequently, thinking about the provisions of both Short article 5 and six with each other, Sri Lanka argued, it is evident that no fishing rights are conferred on Indian fishermen or vessels to have interaction in fishing in Sri Lankan waters. In continuation of this procedure, an Arrangement on the Maritime Boundary among Sri Lanka and India in the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal, together with similar matters, was signed in 1976. This Arrangement more elucidated the positions founded by the 1974 Arrangement among the two nations. Short article five of the 1976 Agreement stipulates the subsequent:

Just about every Social gathering shall workout sovereignty over the historic waters, territorial sea, and islands slipping in its respective boundary. Each and every Occasion shall keep sovereign legal rights and distinctive jurisdiction in excess of the Continental Shelf and the Distinctive Economic Zone (EEZ), as perfectly as their sources, whether or not residing or non-living, within its boundary. Just about every Get together shall respect navigation legal rights by way of its territorial sea and special economic zone in accordance with its guidelines, regulations, and worldwide regulation.  Colombo argued that these provisions depart no question about fishing legal rights. TN leaders normally contested this placement.

The historic claim more than Katchatheevu remained contentious till the mid-seventies, with each India and Sri Lanka asserting possession based on conflicting historical documents. When India’s acquiescence to the cession of Katchatheevu can be attributed to political and strategic issues, the issue continued to be politically sensitive, significantly in Tamil Nadu.

Even with lawful worries 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 posture is damaged now. This is certainly the initially time that the ruling NDA’s major echelons have occur out in open with a situation that the INC and DMK were not truthful on the Katchatheevu challenge which remained a elaborate and contentious facet of India-Sri Lanka maritime boundary, with political, economic, and historic proportions. Prime Minister Modi’s remarks, as nicely as EAM’s push meeting, have triggered debates and elevated fears about the implications for bilateral cooperation and regional security.

The problems of Tamil folks are natural offered the long history of the fishermen being routinely arrested. Now, there is a problem looming: Can the 1974 and 1976 agreements be terminated primarily based on proof of the violations of their provisions? For the ruling dispensation in New Delhi, which aims to make electoral gains in South India, the challenge carries substantial excess weight. They know that the issue could open up a new and delicate entrance in the ongoing electoral struggle, with accusations towards the past INC and DMK governments of surrendering India’s national pursuits. For the people today of Tamil Nadu, the challenge is not just delicate but also a make a difference of life and livelihood, with profound implications for their everyday life and financial perfectly-remaining.

K.M. Seethi is ICSSR Senior Fellow and the Academic Advisor of the International Centre for Polar Research at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He also served as Senior Professor and Dean of International Relations at MGU. The sights and opinions expressed in this write-up are people of the creator.

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