‘Jawaharlal Nehru saw Katchatheevu Island as a nuisance’: S Jaishankar as Centre ups the ante

S Jaishankar’s statement comes shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday targeted the DMK over the Katchatheevu Island issue.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar addresses a press conference at the BJP Headquarters in New Delhi on April 1. (PTI)

The political row over the Katchatheevu issue intensified on Monday as external affairs minister S Jaishankar held a press conference and claimed that the decades-old territorial and fishing rights dispute around the island did not surface suddenly and that it has often been debated in Parliament. He also claimed that prime ministers from the Congress displayed indifference about Katchatheevu Island and gave away Indian fishermen’s rights despite legal views to the contrary.

S Jaishankar’s statement comes shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted the DMK over the Katchatheevu Island issue, alleging the ruling party of Tamil Nadu did nothing to safeguard the state’s interests.

At the press conference, Jaishankar said prime ministers such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi dubbed Katchatheevu, given to Sri Lanka in 1974 as part of a maritime boundary agreement, as a “little island” and “little rock”, asserting that the issue has not cropped up abruptly but was always a live matter.

“In an observation given by the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru in May 1961, he wrote, ‘I attach no importance at all to this little island and I would have no hesitation in giving up our claim to it. I do not like matters like this pending indefinitely and being raised again and again in parliament.’ So, to Pandit Nehru, this was a little island, it had no importance, he saw it as a nuisance… For him, the sooner you give it away, the better…”

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“This view continued on to Indira Gandhi as well,” Jaishankar added.

“The Katchatheevu issue didn’t surface suddenly; it’s a live issue, often debated in Parliament… The Congress, DMK approached Katchatheevu issue as though they bear no responsibility,” Jaishankar said.

It has been a matter of frequent correspondence between the Centre and the state government, Jaishankar said, adding that he has replied to the chief minister at least 21 times.

Attacking the DMK over its public posturing against the agreement, Jaishankar said its leader and then chief minister M Karunanidhi was kept fully informed about the agreement, first reached in 1974 between India and Sri Lanka.

He added that the DMK very much “connived” with the Congress in 1974 and afterwards in creating this situation.

Jaishankar explained that in 20 years, 6,184 Indian fishermen have been detained by Sri Lanka and their 1,175 fishing vessels seized by the neighbouring country.

“It is the Narendra Modi government which has been working to ensure that the Indian fishermen are released, he said, adding, We have to find a solution. We have to sit down and work it out with the Sri Lankan government,” the EAM said.

Earlier on Monday, citing a news report which claimed that M Karunanidhi had given his concurrence to the agreement despite his party the DMK’s public posturing against the deal, Modi took to X and wrote, “New details emerging on the issue of India handing over the Katchatheevu island to Sri Lank have unmasked the DMK’s double standards totally.”

The media report is based on an RTI reply received by Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai to his queries on the 1974 agreement between India and Lanka when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister.

Modi said, “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.”

“The Congress and DMK are family units. 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 fisherwomen in particular,” he added.

The prime minister on Sunday targeted the Congress over the issue.

He said, “Weakening India’s unity, integrity and interests has been the Congress’ way of working for 75 years and counting.”

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