Foreign Policy Blunder under Congress’s Rule: The Katchatheevu Conundrum!

The handover of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka serves as a stark reminder of the blunders of India's foreign policy under the Congress Party.
Keywords: Sri Lanka, Katchatheevu, Blunder, Foreign Policy, Congress, Historical
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It is crucial to realise that foreign policy falls squarely within the purview of the central government of India. Over the years, India’s foreign policy decisions, especially regarding bilateral agreements and territorial disputes, have been closely watched and extensively debated. Many of the problems India faces today with its neighbors can be traced back to the decisions taken by previous governments, particularly those of the Congress Party, given its decades-long hold on power. One such decision that is steeped in controversy and still reverberates through Indian politics today is the ceding of the Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka in 1974. This move, driven primarily by the Congress government led by Indira Gandhi, had profound and serious implications.

India has always extended the hand of friendship to her neighbors, but the dividends of such goodwill have been negligible. Instead, these nations have often proved to be sources of trouble, fueling ethnic violence, harboring terrorists, supporting illegal occupation, and minting anti-Indian propaganda. While India upholds the principles of non-violence, her neighbors often engage in activities that undermine Indian interests. 

The decision to cede the island of the Katchatheevu, located northeast of the famous Rameshwaram in Tamilnadu to Sri Lanka, is a clear example of the haughty and short-sighted attitude of the Congress party. Without seeking parliamentary approval or engaging in meaningful consultation with all stakeholders, the Congress-led central government unilaterally transferred ownership of the island to Sri Lanka. Despite its historical ties to the kings of Ramanathapuram and their importance to India, Katchatheevu has long been embroiled in territorial disputes between India and Sri Lanka due to its strategic location. Against the backdrop of India’s nuclear tests in 1974 and subsequent international pressure, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi hastily signed an agreement with Sri Lanka and relinquished control of the strategically important Katchatheeva without due consideration for the concerns of Tamilnadu or Parliament.

Then Tamilnadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi remained silent for an astonishing two months. The underlying reason was his then political rivalry with M.G.R., who had complained to Indira Gandhi about rampant corruption in the Karunanidhi administration. Fearful of further tarnishing his image and potentially facing a central-level probe, Karunanidhi chose not to object to the ceding of Katchatheevu Island. 

The cession of that uninhabited speck of land to Sri Lanka remains a contentious issue, with legal disputes over its validity. While the Indian government maintains the deal is legally binding, critics say it violates constitutional norms because it was never ratified by parliament. The effects of the Katchatheevu Agreement have been particularly severe for Indian fishermen who now face harassment, arrest, and are sometimes even shot by the Sri Lankan Navy. Despite assurances of fishing and navigation rights under the agreement, Indian fishermen in Sri Lankan waters are increasingly vulnerable, deprived of their traditional fishing grounds and livelihoods. The Katchatheevu issue has become a permanent feature of Tamilnadu’s political landscape, with state governments promising to reclaim the island but delivering no tangible results. 

Over time, Sri Lanka consistently asserted its own claims while denying Indian fishermen their right to access these waters. Sri Lanka maintains that the 1974 agreement cannot be struck down by Indian courts. In addition, certain Sri Lankan politicians have also made insensitive remarks suggesting that it is easier to shoot Indian fishermen than to arrest them. There are also individuals in Delhi who are pushing for Sri Lanka to impound the Indian fishermen’s boats and impose heavy fines for trespassing in historic and traditional fishing waters that have been used by Tamil communities for centuries. 

Examining the historical context and grappling with the complexities of the Katchatheevu issue, India is compelled to prioritise the welfare of its people, particularly the fishermen of Tamilnadu, while maintaining vigilant national security measures. Progress in this direction requires strong diplomatic initiatives, raising legal challenges to the validity of the agreement and taking proactive measures to protect Indian fishermen in disputed waters. In addition, India must take into account the lessons of past mistakes and ensure that foreign policy decisions promote transparency, accountability and national interests. The handover of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka serves as a stark reminder of the blunders of India’s foreign policy under the Congress Party, and history will undoubtedly scrutinise such blunders critically!

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Amarjeet Verma

Amarjeet Verma is a passionate social activist and policy expert with a unique perspective, being a person with a different ability. His unyeilding commitment is evident through his active engagement in advocating for various local and national issues. A prolific contributor to numerous news and content platforms, Amarjeet fearlessly amplifies voices that deserve attention. His expertise extends to sharing insightful views on diverse policy matters. Additionally, he is committed to identifying and celebrating change-makers and youth icons in Bihar, recognizing their contributions across various fields. Amarjeet Verma's indomitable spirit and advocacy work exemplify his determination to bring positive change and create an inclusive society for all.

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