Tamil Nadu’s ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam did nothing to safeguard the state’s interests when Katchatheevu island was ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974, Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleged on Monday

Katchatheevu is a small uninhabited island in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka. Both India and Sri Lanka had laid claim over the island since at least 1921. In 1974, the two countries signed an agreement demarcating their maritime boundary. It said that the boundary runs one mile off Katchatheevu’s western coast, effectively placing the island in Sri Lankan territorial waters.

On Sunday, the prime minister had criticised the Congress citing “new facts” that had shown that the party had “callously” given away the island to Sri Lanka. He was referring to a The Times of India report that quoted documents in a Right to Information reply suggesting that Indira Gandhi, the prime minister at the time, handed over Katchatheevu to the island nation.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s Tamil Nadu chief K Annamalai had obtained the documents through a Right to Information application, the newspaper said.

On Monday, the prime minister alleged that “new details” about the matter had “unmasked” the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s “double standards”.

Modi cited another report by The Times of India on Monday based the documents, which showed that the late Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu’s chief minister at the time, had agreed to giving away Katchatheevu despite his party’s public disapproval of the deal.

In a social media post, Modi said that the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam were “family units”. “They only care that their own sons and daughters rise,” he said. “They don’t care for anyone else.”

Their callousness on Katchatheevu has harmed the interests of fisherfolk in particular, Modi added.

According to the documents, Kewal Singh, India’s foreign secretary at the time, had met with Karunanidhi to discuss the agreement on July 19, 1974, The Times of India reported on Monday.

The documents said that Karunanidhi had indicated that he was “inclined to accept the suggested solution”. The report also said that Karunanidhi may have known of the agreement ahead of others in the Union government and the ruling Congress at the time.

The report stated that Karunanidhi expected a backlash against the agreement. “The chief minister, having signified his general acceptance of the suggested solution, said that for political reasons, he could not be expected to take a public stand in favour of it,” the newspaper quoted the document as having recorded.

Karunanidhi had assured Singh that he would ensure that reactions against the agreement would be “low key”, the newspaper cited the documents as having noted.

However, on July 23, 1974, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Era Sezhiyan had criticised the Indira Gandhi government as it moved to make a statement in Parliament on the agreement that ceded Katchatheevu, The Times of India reported.

Sezhiyan had also criticised the Centre for keeping Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government and Parliament in the dark about the deal, the report added.

Scroll was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the documents.

Public has a right to know, says Jaishankar

On Monday, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that the public had a right to know how Katchatheevu was given to Sri Lanka.

Criticising the Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Jaishankar said that the parties “approached this matter as though they have no responsibility for this”.

Jaishankar added that this was a “live” issue and has not “suddenly resurfaced”.

“It is an issue that has been very much debated in Parliament and in Tamil Nadu politics,” he said. “It has been a subject of correspondence between the Union government and the state government.”

“In the last 20 years, 6,184 Indian fishermen have been detained by Sri Lanka and 1,175 Indian fishing vessels have been seized, detained or apprehended by Sri Lanka,” he said.

PM’s desperation palpable, says Congress

On Sunday, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on social media said that the prime minister had “suddenly woken up to the issues of territorial integrity and national security” in the tenth year of his term. “Perhaps, elections are the trigger,” Kharge said. “Your desperation is palpable,” he added.

The Congress leader asked whether the Union government had taken any steps “to resolve this issue and take back Katchatheevu”.

He also said that Modi had given a “clean chit to China” after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the Galwan Valley in Ladakh.

In June 2020, a major face-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley led to casualties on both sides – the first in many decades. Tensions had flared up at multiple friction points along the disputed border, with both countries deploying tens of thousands of troops backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets in the region.

Since the clashes, China and India have held several rounds of military and diplomatic negotiations to resolve the standoff.

On Monday, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, responding to Modi’s allegations on social media, said that the state wanted a response to three questions from those who had brought up the Katchatheevu issue after a “slumber” of “10 years”.

Stalin asked: “If Tamil Nadu pays one rupee as tax, why does the Union government return only 29 paise?” The chief minister also questioned why the state was “not given even a single rupee as flood relief despite facing two back-to-back calamities”.

Also read: Explained: The Katchatheevu dispute with Sri Lanka that Modi is raking up this election season