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Why is the Congress of India suddenly talking about the exchange of enclaves?

April 3, 2024 2:09 am

India’s enclave exchange with Bangladesh was completed between July 31 and August 1, 2015. The Indian National Congress raised the issue before the Lok Sabha elections almost nine years later.

Responding to a speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Congress cited an earlier statement of its own, saying that the 2015 “Land Boundary Agreement was not just land realignment, it was a meeting of hearts.”

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge actually brought up the India-Bangladesh land boundary agreement while responding to a serious allegation raised by Narendra Modi.

Modi alleged that new information has come to light about how the Congress foolishly gave away Kachthivhu.

Kachchathivu is a small island, less than two square kilometers in area. This small island is located in the Pak-strait between Sri Lanka and India. Both Sri Lanka and India have been claiming the island. Finally, in 1974, India withdrew its claim over the island.

The local politics of Tamil Nadu has heated up many times over this. It was Modi who brought the issue to the fore in national politics for the first time while opposing the Congress.

On his social media handle X (formerly Twitter), Modi described the incident as ‘eye-opening’ and ‘horrifying’.

It angered every Indian, he wrote. It has re-established in people’s mind that Congress can never be trusted. Undermining India’s unity, harming India’s interests has been the modus operandi of Congress for 75 years.

Why the debate about Kachthivhu?

A report in the English daily Times of India started the debate on Kachthavu. The newspaper wrote that the Indian government’s ‘apathetic attitude’ led to the handing over of the island of Katchathivu to Sri Lanka in 1974.

The paper said the matter came to light from an application under the Right to Information Act filed by Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue while addressing a public meeting on Sunday, he also wrote on the X handle that day.

Then Foreign Minister S Jaishankar also held a press conference. There he said, DMK (ruling party of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Tamil Nadu) and Congress are behaving as if everything is the responsibility of the central government and they have not done anything. As if the matter is only being discussed now, it has no history. It has now come up in discussion because people are wondering how this debate started? Questions have been raised about this island of pluralism in Parliament.

The foreign minister said, I myself have replied to the Tamil Nadu government 21 times. In 1974, the then Foreign Secretary and the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi, talked about the claims of both India and Sri Lanka over Kachthivhu.

However, earlier in 2022, Jaishankar’s Ministry – External Affairs informed the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of Parliament, that ‘Kachathivu is located on the Sri Lankan side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line.’

Again in 2013 when the Congress was in power, they told the Supreme Court that no Indian territory had been handed over to Sri Lanka.

Fishing permits during the East India Company period

According to the documents, this island is located about 20 km from the Indian coast with an area of 1.9 square km. India claimed the island as its own for decades, but then backed away from that claim.

Sri Lanka was earlier known as Ceylon. The island was claimed by the country just after independence in 1948. They said that the Indian Navy (the then Royal Indian Navy) could not conduct military exercises in Kachthivhu without their permission.

Then the then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru said that the island has no special importance. There is no hesitation in relinquishing their claim to the island.

It is reported that in 1875, the East India Company granted permission to fish around the island to the local king of Ramnathpur. After the independence of India, the zamindari of that king was naturally merged with the kingdom of Madras.

V Suryanarayan, the former director of the Center for South and South Asian Affairs at Kachthivur University, has written that there is doubt as to how strong India’s claim on Kachthivu is.

Suryanarayan has several books on Kachchathivu Island. According to him, a decision on Katchathivu was necessary to prevent the declining popularity of Sirimavo Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka. Left parties there suspected that India was going to increase its surveillance of its neighbours. For example – they used to talk about Kachthivhu. An attempt was made to dispel that doubt by giving Sri Lanka the rights to Kachthivhu.

He wrote that the 1974 agreement had given certain rights to Indian fishermen. Again in the 1976 agreement, all those rights were canceled. Thus India lost all rights over Kachthivhu. The then Tamil Nadu government (DMAK was then in power) strongly opposed the handing over of Kachthivhu to Sri Lanka.

“Never comparable to enclave exchange”

The leadership of the former enclave feels that the implementation of the India-Bangladesh land agreement can never be compared with the withdrawal of India’s claim over the Kachchathivu island.

162 enclaves were exchanged between the two countries on the midnight of July 31 and August 1, 2015, implementing the land boundary agreement. 51 Bangladeshi enclaves merged with India and 111 Indian villages became part of Bangladesh.

Deeptiman Sengupta was the leader of the movement by the enclave-dwellers of the two countries demanding the implementation of the land agreement.

He was saying that the incident of Kachthivu Island is never comparable to the exchange of enclaves. And the role of Modi’s government in enclave exchange was only to implement. The Nehru-Noon Pact, followed by the Indira-Mujib Pact and the Khaleda Zia-Narsima Rao Pact – these were the basis of the Land Limits Agreement. Accordingly, the result of our long-term movement is the historical enclave exchange in 2015.

Deeptiman Sengupta said, “Congress-BJP-Left-Trinamool Congress all supported the implementation of this agreement.” Therefore, one of the groups exchanged enclaves, it is also inappropriate to look at it this way.

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