Modi’s election gambit: stirring controversy over Katchatheevu

Due to Modi’s unscrupulous election-winning methods, Sri Lankan diplomacy is at odds with India

Rakhshanda Mehtab April 13, 2024


India’s monopolistic tendencies affect every nation in South Asia. It has maintained tense relations with the majority of its neighbours since gaining independence in 1947. India’s challenges in building peaceful relations with its South Asian neighbours range from the illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir progressing into its eventual annexation; economic blockades of Nepal; border and water disputes with Bangladesh; and overt meddling in Sri Lanka. Even with China, it is locked in a conflict over Ladakh. Additionally, it has totally overrun Bhutan’s sovereignty. Over time, India appears to have established a pattern of antagonistic interactions with all of its neighbours. The world is aware of the atrocities being committed in occupied Kashmir and the Pulwama’s false-flag operation — both under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watch.

As the election draws near, Modi has begun utilising cunning strategies to boost his popularity. He created a new narrative about Desh Rakhwali. A strange dispute concerning incidents that occurred fifty years ago is becoming a focal point of the Indian election campaign. Modi and BJP have started criticising the main opposition of the day for giving a small, uninhabited island to Sri Lanka in 1974, right before voting, which is scheduled to start in less than two weeks.

Katchatheevu, a small, deserted island in Sri Lanka, situated in the Palak Strait, is only 1.9 sq-km in size and resembles a strip. Sri Lanka and India are separated by this little bay. It is situated southwest of Jaffna in Sri Lanka and northwest of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, India. Rich Indian Ocean fishing grounds envelop Katchatheevu, which also houses a Catholic church that draws yearly pilgrims from Sri Lanka and India. India, in spite of the 8118 km long shoreline, is fantasising the ownership of this area over 285 acres.

Since the British era, Katchatheevu has been a disputed area between Sri Lanka and India. Under the terms of the 1974 Indo-Sri Lankan Maritime Agreement, the Congress administration led by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi consented to give it to the Sri Lanka. Katchatheevu was thus included into Sri Lanka. Post-2009, the island’s security and patrols were made more stringent. The island had minimal strategic significance ten years ago, but in the recent ten years, as China’s influence over Sri Lanka has grown, the island’s geopolitical dimensions have shifted, making it a place of strategic relevance for India.

And now with the elections just round the corner, the debate over the 1974 island handover to Sri Lanka has turned heated. Speaking at an election rally, Modi accused the opposition Congress of “brutally” turning the island over to Sri Lanka. Congress fired back, charging that Modi was acting in “desperation” by raising “such a pointless matter” so close to the polls.

Modi criticised the late Congress PM, Indira Gandhi as well on the floor of Lok Sabha. He is devising evil plans to maintain Indian sway over the area. In a populist move before the elections, Modi has started putting pressure on Sri Lanka to hand back the control of Katchatheevu Island to India, offering financial assistance to Sri Lanka in return.

However, the mutual agreement reached in 1974, during the government of Indira Gandhi, states that Sri Lanka is the rightful owner of the island. Modi is willing to sink to whatever depths possible in order to win the vote. In his campaign to establish hegemony in the area, Modi is also using the chief minister of Tamil Nadu to exert pressure on Sri Lanka

India wants to control the Palak Strait in order to put direct pressure on Sri Lanka. This is akin to contesting Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. Due to Modi’s unscrupulous election-winning methods, Sri Lankan diplomacy is at odds with India.

Under any conditions, no nation in South Asia can tolerate India’s hegemonistic tendencies. Modi’s unwarranted cunning diplomacy has consequently turned Sri Lanka into a target.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2024.

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