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Opposition cites 2015 RTI reply, jabs Jaishankar over government ‘change in stance’ on Katchatheevu island

NEW DELHI: Hitting back at the Centre over the Katchatheevu island issue, opposition leaders on Monday cited a 2015 RTI reply, which stated that the agreements in 1974 and 1976 did not involve either acquiring or ceding of territory belonging to India, and asked whether the ”change” in the Modi government’s stance is for ”election politics”.

The opposition’s response came after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday claimed that former prime ministers of the Congress displayed indifference to Katchatheevu island and gave away the Indian fishermen’s rights despite legal views to the contrary.

Jaishankar’s remarks at a press conference were made a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi cited a media report to assert that new facts reveal that the Congress ”callously” gave away Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said, ”Is Dr S Jaishankar, now Minister of External Affairs, disowning the reply given by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on January 27th, 2015, when the same Dr Jaishankar was foreign secretary?” ”The MEA’s response to a RTI query on Katchatheevu in 2015 had said ‘This (Agreement) did not involve either acquiring or ceding of territory belonging to India since the area in question had never been demarcated. Under the Agreements, the Island of Katchatheevu lies on the Sri Lankan side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line,” Ramesh said on X.

”The easiest to hunt in a political expedition is a scapegoat. Who will it be?” Ramesh added.

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram also hit out at the government over the issue. ”Tit for tat is old. Tweet for Tweet is the new weapon. Will foreign minister Mr Jaishankar please refer to the RTI reply dated 27-1-2015…The reply justified the circumstances under which India acknowledged that a small island belonged to Sri Lanka,” Chidambaram said. He asked why the external affairs minister and his ministry are doing a somersault now.

”How quickly can people change colours. From a suave liberal foreign service officer to a smart foreign secretary to a mouthpiece of the RSS-BJP, life and times of Mr Jaishankar will be recorded in the annals of acrobatic sports,” Chidambaram said.

He said it is true that fishermen were detained in the last 50 years. Likewise, India has detained many Sri Lankan fishermen, the Congress leader said. Every government has negotiated with Sri Lanka and freed Indian fishermen, the former Union home minister said.

”This has happened when Mr Jaishankar was a foreign service officer and when he was foreign secretary and when he is foreign minister. What has changed for Mr Jaishankar to launch a tirade against the Congress and the DMK?” he asked.

Were fishermen not detained by Sri Lanka when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister and the BJP was in power and in alliance with different political parties of Tamil Nadu, he asked.

Chidambaram also asked, ”Were not fishermen detained by Sri Lanka when Mr Modi was in power since 2014?”.

In a post on X, Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Priyanka Chaturvedi shared the RTI response from the ministry of external affairs in 2015 which said Katchatheevu island lies on the Sri Lanka side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line which was delineated by the 1974 Agreement demarcating it in the Palk Straits and a subsequent 1976 Agreement demarcating it in the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal.

”This did not involve either acquiring or ceding of territory belonging to India since the area in question had never been demarcated. Under the Agreements, the Island of Katchatheevu lies on the Sri Lankan side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line,” the RTI reply said.

Tagging the RTI reply dated January 27, 2015, Chaturvedi said may be the MEA will be able to address these discrepancies in its RTI response in 2015 vis-a-vis 2024.

”As per the RTI response in 2015, when current foreign minister was serving as the FS (foreign secretary), it was said. This did not involve either acquiring or ceding of territory belonging to India since the area in question had never been demarcated…,” the Shiv Sena (UBT) leader said.

”Today the foreign minister and yesterday the PM claimed it has been ‘ceded’. So is the change in stance for their election politics or has Modiji made a case for Sri Lanka?” she said.

Tagging her post on X, Congress general secretary, in-charge communications, Ramesh said, ”Just shows how quickly the foreign secretary changed his colours when he became external affairs minister.” ”There is no limit to hypocrisy or lie-mongering as far as the Modi Sarkar is concerned,” Ramesh charged.

Jaishankar on Monday 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”. He asserted that the issue has not cropped up abruptly but was always a live matter.

It has been frequently raised in Parliament and 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.

 

Source: Press Trust of India

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