India’s Modi Questions Rival Congress About Island Ceded to Sri Lanka

New Delhi: India’s decades-old decision to resolve a territorial dispute with Sri Lanka over a small island has ignited a contentious election debate, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party accusing the rival Congress of compromising fishermen’s rights.

The agreement in 1976 prohibited Indian fishermen from accessing waters around the 285-acre Katchatheevu island in the Palk Strait, following a deal that granted maritime rights over the island to Sri Lanka. Over the past two decades, Sri Lanka has reportedly detained more than 6,000 Indian fishermen and 1,175 fishing vessels in the area.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s recent remarks highlighted the issue, drawing attention to the longstanding discontent in Tamil Nadu, India’s southern coastal state neighboring Sri Lanka. This discontent has led to legal challenges to the agreements, which are still pending in the Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Modi, taking to social media, accused Congress of “callously” surrendering the island, emphasizing that weakening India’s unity and interests has been Congress’ modus operandi for decades.

In response, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge defended the 1974 agreement, describing it as a “friendly gesture.” He criticized Modi for raising the sensitive issue on the eve of the general elections, suggesting political motives behind the timing of Modi’s comments.

Tamil Nadu, a key battleground, heads to the polls on April 19, marking the start of seven phases of voting spanning until June 1. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party aims to gain traction in the state, where it failed to secure any seats in the last parliamentary elections.

The status of Katchatheevu remains a contentious issue, with the matter currently under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Despite calls for government intervention, Jaishankar refrained from commenting on potential alterations to the island’s status, citing the ongoing legal proceedings.