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Business News/ Politics / Katchatheevu row: Sri Lanka rejects ‘need’ for talks, ex-envoy says ‘BJP invoked a vote-puller’ ahead of Lok Sabha polls
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Katchatheevu row: Sri Lanka rejects ‘need’ for talks, ex-envoy says ‘BJP invoked a vote-puller’ ahead of Lok Sabha polls

A former Sri Lankan envoy has accused the BJP of exploiting the Katchatheevu island issue as a means to garner votes in the Lok Sabha elections. The envoy cautioned of potential issues arising if India were to violate maritime boundaries.

Fishermen, who put out to sea in 628 boats suffered loss as they could not cross Katchatheevu islet and fish in the traditional waters. Premium
Fishermen, who put out to sea in 628 boats suffered loss as they could not cross Katchatheevu islet and fish in the traditional waters.

Katchatheevu row: A former Sri Lankan envoy to India, Austin Fernando has accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of exploiting the Katchatheevu island issue as a "vote-puller" and cautioned that the Indian government could face issues if they were to backtrack after the Lok Sabha elections.

In an interview with The Indian Express, Fernando said that if India crosses the Sri Lankan maritime international boundary line, it would be seen as a “violation of Sri Lankan sovereignty".

Fernando asked if Pakistan proposes such sea encroachment near Goa, will India tolerate it? "Or if Bangladesh does something like this in the Bay of Bengal, what will be India’s response," he questioned?

The former Sri Lankan envoy to India said, “BJP does not have much of a hold in Tamil Nadu comparatively, so it has sparked off a vote-puller."

Katchatheevu, an island that was ceded to Sri Lanka decades ago has gained newfound significance in political discussions sparked by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who are aiming to win Tamil Nadu in the Lok Sabha elections 2024. However, the Sri Lankan foreign minister responded days after the controversy erupted, stating that Sri Lanka sees no necessity to reopen discussions on the contentious island, which was ceded to it by New Delhi 50 years ago.

In the lead-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP, along with PM Modi, has been leveraging the Katchatheevu island issue to criticize Congress leaders. Seeking to make electoral gains in Tamil Nadu, the BJP aims to address the Katchatheevu island issue, following its failure to secure any of the state's 39 seats in India's 545-member parliament in the previous Lok Sabha election.

The once low-key territorial dispute, which has now become a contentious election issue in India, has drawn international attention. The BJP asserted that Indian fishermen have been dissatisfied since a 1976 agreement with Sri Lanka prohibited them from accessing the waters around the island.

"This is a problem discussed and resolved 50 years ago and there is no need to have further discussions on this," Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told the domestic Hiru television channel on Wednesday.

"I don’t think it will come up," he said, adding that no one had yet raised the question of a change in the status of the island, located 33 km (21 miles) off India's coast in the Palk Strait that divides the neighbours.

Katchatheevu Island row

The Katchatheevu island had been ceded to Sri Lanka in 1974, in lieu of a pact between both governments. According to reports, fisherfolks of both countries occasionally violated the pact on the waters around the uninhabited island.

On Monday, EAM Jaishankar had claimed Sri Lanka had detained more than 6,000 Indian fishermen and 1,175 fishing vessels over the last 20 years, following the no-fishing pact.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sayantani Biswas
Sayantani is an editor with Livemint. She covers stories of International and Indian politics, conflict
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Published: 04 Apr 2024, 04:46 PM IST
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