Katchatheevu handed over to Sri Lanka: What did DMK do?
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin’s statement that Katchatheevu should be retrieved while Prime Minister Modi was sitting on the podium at a government function in Chennai caused a political stir.
Annamalai, TN BJP Leader, criticised harshly that the Chief Minister forgot that Katchatheevu was gifted by Indira Gandhi to Sri Lanka during the Congress-DMK alliance in 1974, now why was he suddenly awakening. As a result, the DMK, which did not oppose the handing over of Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka while in power, is now being criticized on social media for demanding the retrieval of Katchatheevu.
The problem of Katchatheevu started even before the independence of India. In the 1970s, Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister decided to hand over Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka because of her friendship with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and to help her politically.
On this basis, an agreement was signed between India and Sri Lanka on June 28, 1974, demarcating the Katchatheevu area to the Sri Lankan border, while at the same time protecting the right of Indians to fish and to go to festivals.
When the Indian government decided to hand over Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka in 1973, Chief Minister Karunanidhi met Indira Gandhi with the then Law Minister S. Madhavan and expressed his opposition. Further, he had submitted his opposition in writing to the Prime Minister with evidence that Katchatheevu belonged to India.
Karunanidhi said that although India’s maritime agreement had severely affected the rights of the state government, the central government had not even come forward to discuss the terms of the agreement with the state government. Also, during the negotiations on the agreement, he met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Foreign Ministry officials and argued that Katchatheevu belonged to India and should not be given to Sri Lanka.
Despite all this, all the political parties convened in Tamil Nadu on June 29, 1974, after the signing of the India – Sri Lanka Agreement on June 28, 1974. The resolution was passed in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly on August 21. Further, Karunanidhi asked the Central Government to reconsider the terms of the agreement.
In 1971, Indira Gandhi’s Congress and Karunanidhi’s DMK allied, contested and won elections. On June 28, 1974, the India – Sri Lanka Agreement was signed and Katchatheevu was handed over to Sri Lanka. In 1975, Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India.
The split between Indira Gandhi and Karunanidhi escalated during the Emergency because of the Cauvery issue and Katchatheevu agreement. Karunanidhi opposed Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. On January 31, 1976, the Karunanidhi-led government of Tamil Nadu was dissolved. Thus the governor’s rule took place in Tamil Nadu. Indira Gandhi and MGR were on good terms during the Emergency. The AIADMK and the Congress allied and contested the 1977 parliamentary elections after the Emergency.
The Second Agreement was signed between India and Sri Lanka on March 23, 1976, during the Emergency. According to the terms of the agreement, Indian fishermen and fishing boats will not be allowed to fish in Sri Lankan waters without Sri Lankan permission.
According to the 1974 & 1976 agreements, Katchatheevu was annexed to Sri Lanka by the then Indira Gandhi-led Central Congress government. In 1983, when MGR was the Chief Minister, the then Ramanathapuram District Collector issued an order to remove Katchatheevu from the map of India as it had been officially handed over as per the agreement of the Central Government. Order No: RCF 23 – 75/83.
The Katchatheevu issue was a hot topic in Tamil Nadu politics. Former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, who passed away in June 2013, in the Assembly, “Karunanidhi have no rights to talk about Katchatheevu”, said. Karunanidhi issued an explanatory statement on this.
In a statement, he said, “When the Central Government decided in 1974 to hand over Katchatheevu to Sri Lanka, the then DMK government in Tamil Nadu expressed strong opposition. But, Katchatheevu has been handed over to Sri Lanka by the Indian government for some reason. Even so, the DMK insisted that the right to fish, the right to go on a pilgrimage and the right to dry fishing nets should be included in the provision and hence is done after we insisted. But by the time the governor ruled Tamil Nadu during the ensuing crisis, those terms had been snatched away from the agreement. But have we not expressed our opposition to it?
In 1974, while the DMK was still in power, the General Assembly passed a resolution urging the Central Government, Indian PM Indira Gandhi to reconsider and find a way to amend the agreement so that the Government of India would have ownership of the island. Adding to it, on 14.7.1974, on behalf of the party we organized a ‘Katchatheevu agreement condemning’ day.
As the Chief Minister, I wrote a letter to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 6.1.1974 with various sources stating not to have Katchatheevu agreement and that Katchatheevu was a part of India”.
Currently, having Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the podium, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has said that it is the right time to retrieve Katchatheevu and seeks necessary actions, that the Katchatheevu issue is once again interfering in Tamil Nadu politics now. In this context, Sri Lankan Minister of Maritime Affairs Douglas Devananda said, “The idea of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu is impossible. An agreement has been settled between India and Sri Lanka on this issue”.