What about incursions by China, Congress asks PM after his attack on Katchatheevu issue

Congress leaders defend the ceding of the island to Sri Lanka in 1974 and call it a friendly gesture similar to the Land Boundary Agreement signed between India and Bangladesh during Modi’s first term as PM 

March 31, 2024 08:46 pm | Updated April 01, 2024 01:08 am IST - New Delhi

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge addresses the Opposition’s ‘Loktantra Bachao’ rally at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on March 31, 2024.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge addresses the Opposition’s ‘Loktantra Bachao’ rally at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi on March 31, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

Responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attack on the Congress on the Katchatheevu issue, the Congress on March 31 hit back at the government, questioning Mr. Modi on China’s “incursions” into the Indian territory in the last few years, and the increased “belligerence” of “otherwise friendly neighbours like Nepal, Bhutan, and Maldives” under his leadership. 

Sunday morning saw the Prime Minister attack the Congress over its commitment to national integrity by sharing on X a news report published in the Times of India, which revealed details obtained through a Right to Information (RTI) query on the circumstances under which then Indira Gandhi government ceded the island to Sri Lanka in 1974. The RTI query was filed by Tamil Nadu BJP president K. Annamalai, who is contesting the Lok Sabha election from Coimbatore.

Why now, asks Kharge

As scores of BJP leaders and supporters further amplified the news report shared by Mr. Modi, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge posted a statement on X, saying that while India and the Congress had a history of leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel sacrificing their lives for the integrity of the nation, “You, PM Modi, gave a CLEAN CHIT to China, after 20 bravehearts made the supreme sacrifice in Galwan Valley.”

  

“You have suddenly woken up to the issues of territorial integrity and national security in your 10th year of misrule. Perhaps, elections are the trigger. Your desperation is palpable,” he added.

The party’s general secretary in-charge communications, Jairam Ramesh, also posted on X that the “real threat” to India’s integrity had been coming from China in the form of encroachments into Indian territory over the last few years.

Mr. Kharge also clarified that the Katchatheevu island had been ceded in a 1974 agreement based on a “friendly gesture”, similar to the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) executed between India and Bangladesh during Mr. Modi’s first term as Prime Minister.

“On the eve of elections in Tamil Nadu, you are raising this sensitive issue, but your own Govt’s Attorney General, Shri Mukul Rohtagi, in 2014 told the following to the Supreme Court, ‘Katchatheevu went to Sri Lanka by an agreement in 1974… How can it be taken back today? If you want Katchatheevu back, you will have to go to war to get it back.’ Pradhan Mantri ji, you should tell, did your Govt take ANY steps to resolve this issue and take back Katchatheevu?” he asked on X. 

Also, defending the ceding of the island to Sri Lanka under the circumstances of the time, Mr. Ramesh said: “In 1974, the same year that Katchatheevu became part of Sri Lanka, the Sirima Bandaranaike-Indira Gandhi Pact allowed the repatriation of 600,000 Tamil people from Sri Lanka to India. In a single move, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi secured human rights and dignity for six lakh hitherto stateless people.”

Similarly, when Mr. Modi’s government brought the Bill for the LBA, the Congress had recognised the humanitarian need for it despite India losing out on over 10,000 acres in the deal, he said. “Rather than make juvenile allegations on the Prime Minister, the Congress party supported the Bill in both Houses of Parliament,” he said. 

Mr. Ramesh also took a dig at the way a “diversionary issue” was created in Tamil Nadu, saying: “The president of BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit files an RTI query to create a diversionary issue in Tamil Nadu. While lakhs of RTI queries on pressing public issues are ignored or rejected, this one gets VVIP treatment and gets answered rapidly. The BJP’s Tamil Nadu president very conveniently ‘places’ the reply to his query in some friendly sections of the media. The Prime Minister immediately amplifies the issue. Talk of match-fixing!”

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