Modi Uses 1974 Island Deal With Sri Lanka to Attack Opposition

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed the main opposition party for ceding an island to Sri Lanka five decades ago when it was in power, dredging up a sensitive issue with an eye on capturing votes in a southern state where his Bharatiya Janata Party has failed to grain traction.

The Indian National Congress and its regional ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, known as DMK, have not safeguarded Tamil Nadu state and their “callousness” on Katchatheevu island have harmed the interests of fishermen, Modi said in a post on X on Monday.

The island is located in the Palk Strait — a narrow waterway between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu — where there are frequent disputes over fishing rights between the South Asian neighbors. Modi is seeking a record third term as prime minister and may use the issue to make inroads into a state that has resisted his party’s Hindu nationalist push.

In the 2019 elections, the BJP failed to get any of the 39 parliament seats from Tamil Nadu, which the DMK currently governs. The region is a base for multinationals such as Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. and has become one of the richest states on a per-capita income basis.

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Modi’s comments come after BJP official obtained government documents leading to the decades-old agreement between Sri Lanka and India under the Right to Information Act. The party says the documents show how the Congress-led government under India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and later on his daughter Indira Gandhi had easily given into Sri Lanka’s demands.

“We believe the public have a right to know how was the 1974 agreement reached and how Katchatheevu island was given away,” India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told reporters in New Delhi on Monday.

When asked whether India can stake a claim on the island, Jaishankar said the issue was now before the country’s top court. He gave no details on what steps the Modi government had taken to rectify the matter over the past decade that it was in power.

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