Sunday, July 21, 2024
HomeNews ReportsFrom Katchatheevu to Coco islands: How Nehru-Gandhi family lost India key marine territories, not...

From Katchatheevu to Coco islands: How Nehru-Gandhi family lost India key marine territories, not just strategic Himalayan heights

Be it Katchatheevu, Coco Islands,or the strategic Himalayan heights, India has lost large chunks of territories to its neighbours under the Congress-ruled governments at the Centre.

On 10th August 2023, a renewed discourse surfaced concerning an island that was once given away from India to Sri Lanka, casting a spotlight on the historically enduring relationship between the two nations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi accentuated this matter during his parliamentary address, as he responded to the opposition’s no-confidence motion.

Notably, the resonance of Modi’s statement regarding the island, which had been ‘gifted’ to Sri Lanka during the regime of Indira Gandhi, reverberated as strongly as the overwhelming victory secured by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance in the Lok Sabha voting on the no-confidence motion.

Indira Gandhi gave Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka

The Katchatheevu Island, nestled within the confines of the India-Sri Lanka border near Rameswaram, has evolved into a contentious focal point, giving rise to a burgeoning call for its repossession. Historically, this island has served as a shared enclave for Tamil fishermen hailing from both India and Sri Lanka.

The year 1974 witnessed a pivotal juncture when the island transitioned hands, as the then-Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, relinquished its sovereignty to Sri Lanka as part of a bilateral accord.

The location of Katchatheevu Island is strategically important. Image Source: Google Maps

In 1974, an accord was inked between Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, and Sri Lankan President Shrimavo Bandaranaike, resulting in the island’s integration under Sri Lankan jurisdiction. Not long after Katchatheevu island changed hands, a clamour emerged within India for its reinstatement.

The year 1991 witnessed the Tamil Nadu Assembly’s adoption of a resolution, articulating the demand to reclaim sovereignty over the island. Subsequently, in 2008, the issue resurfaced prominently when the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, challenged the matter before the Supreme Court, seeking the annulment of the island agreement.

History of Katchatheevu Island

Katchatheevu Island, a desolate landmass distanced from the coastal expanse, is believed to have emerged following a volcanic upheaval during the 14th century. Throughout the era of British dominion, this island served as a shared domain for both India and Sri Lanka. The contention over its ownership persisted unabated even after both nations asserted their claims to the territory in 1921.

During the preceding period, fishermen from both nations engaged in fishing activities across each other’s waters, blurring the lines of maritime jurisdiction. However, the trajectory shifted in the years spanning 1974 to 1976 when the two countries formalised the Maritime Boundary Agreement, definitively demarcating the international maritime boundary that separates them.

Following this pivotal accord, Indian fishermen were granted restricted access to Katchatheevu Island, permitted solely for activities like net drying and participating in the annual St. Anthony’s Festival. Fishing activities, however, were expressly prohibited on the island. Yet, despite these stipulations, Indian fishermen persisted in venturing toward the Sri Lankan sea border to harvest their catches.

In 2009, the security vigil along the maritime border was heightened by Sri Lanka, marking a departure from years of relative calm. This heightened security stance aimed to forestall any resurgence of Tamil rebels in the region. Subsequently, with the conclusion of the conflict in 2010, Sri Lankan fishermen began reclaiming their presence in the area and advanced assertions of sovereignty over the island.

Demands of reclaiming the island

According to the Ministry of External Affairs website, the island falls under Sri Lanka’s territory under the agreements signed between India and Sri Lanka in 1974 and 1976. The case is currently going on in the Supreme Court. Sri Lanka has allowed Indians to visit the island for religious reasons without any visa.

In 2022, off the shores of Katchatheevu Island, fishermen hailing from Rameswaram encountered a distressing incident as they found themselves subjected to an assault by the Sri Lankan Navy. These fishermen recounted their ordeal, stating that while engaged in their fishing activities in the vicinity, they were intentionally targeted by a patrolling vessel of the Sri Lankan Navy. This aggressive encounter culminated in the destruction of one of their boats, causing the fishermen to be plunged into the sea. Fortunately, their fellow fishermen promptly came to their aid, effecting a successful rescue operation.

Following a series of recurrent incidents, a fervent call for the reclamation of Katchatheevu Island has gained momentum. The government of Tamil Nadu has advocated that reinstating India’s sovereignty over this landmass holds the key to resolving this enduring predicament. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu engaged with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in both June 2021 and April 2022, during which two memorandums were presented outlining the imperative to regain control of Katchatheevu Island. These memorandums underscored the substantial losses and hardships endured by the fishermen of Tamil Nadu.

Jawaharlal Nehru lost the Coco Islands

The repercussions that India has borne as a result of strategic missteps made during the Nehruvian period are graver than they appear. Many blunders by Jawaharlal Nehru remained undiscussed and hence unknown to the common people of India for decades, maintaining the dignified image of the rose-bearer which he seldom deserves owing to his deeds against the national interest.

Beyond the relinquishment of lands to Pakistan and China, the Congress party, led by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, bears responsibility for India’s surrender of territories possessing profound strategic importance. The vacillations exhibited by Prime Minister Nehru have exacted a toll far beyond the substantial areas of Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh.

Nehru’s deficiency in strategic understanding and his failure to adeptly negotiate with the British have led to the forfeiture of an exceptionally pivotal island in South Asia, ranking alongside the Andaman and Nicobar Islands – the Coco Islands.

History of the Coco Islands

The Coco Islands, situated approximately 1255 kilometres southeast of Kolkata, stand as a paramount entity within South Asia. Geologically stemming from the extended framework of the Arakan Mountains, or Rakhine Mountains, this island cluster submerges into the Bay of Bengal, forming a continuous chain, only to reemerge later in the configuration of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Positioned to the north of the Andaman archipelago, these strategically significant islands share a topographical kinship with India’s own Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Regrettably, the Coco Islands presently fall under Myanmar’s jurisdiction due to the hesitancy of Indian leadership to assert a robust claim over them.

During the early 19th century, the British Indian government established a penal colony on the Andaman Islands to incarcerate convicts from the Indian subcontinent. Notably, the Coco Islands served as a crucial food source for this settlement. Historical accounts suggest that the British government had entered into a lease arrangement with the Jadwet family of Burma for these islands.

Coco Islands. Image Source: Google Earth

The decision to lease control of the Coco Islands led to inadequate administration, prompting the British Indian government to relinquish authority to the government of Lower Burma in Rangoon. This transition occurred in 1882, formally integrating the islands into British Burma. Despite Burma’s separation from British India in 1937, the islands retained their status as a self-governing crown colony.

Similar to the situation with the Lakshadweep Islands and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the fate of the Coco Islands remained uncertain as the British made preparations to depart from India in 1947. In the final days of British rule in India, imperial authorities were exploring various measures that could potentially impede the rise of a robust and independent India.

Against this backdrop, the British Raj was devising a strategy to withhold key strategic sites from the newly emerging India, encompassing not only the Lakshadweep Islands but also the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, along with the Coco Islands. The British sought to fragment India into distinct segments, a move that would enable them to maintain dominance and influence even as they relinquished direct control.

The British aimed to deprive India of its strategic islands

The imperialists had their eye on many strategic islands in the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, which they thought could be useful for keeping their dominance intact in the region. The Britishers thought that the non-inclusion of these islands with free India would also devoid India a strategic influence in the region, which will enable them to keep India in check.

As per an article in The Tribune India, written by KRN Swamy, the official documents accessed many years after Independence revealed information pertaining to the British Empire’s plans over these strategic islands. The astute statesmanship of Sardar Patel safeguarded Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar islands for the nation, as he engaged in resolute negotiations with the British, steadfastly resisting their pressures.

With the British Empire relinquishing its hold on both the Lakshadweep and the Andaman Islands, their focus shifted towards asserting control over a significant island within the Bay of Bengal. This ambition led to negotiations for the Coco Islands, encompassing both the Great Coco Island and the Little Coco Island. The British, eager to establish authority over these islands, pursued a tripartite agreement aimed at fulfilling their defence requisites through strategic utilisation.

However, the empire’s chiefs of staff harboured reservations about the Coco Islands becoming part of an independent India. Instead, their preference was for the islands to be governed by a Commissioner under the auspices of the Governor-General of India until the culmination of the agreement. Their objective was to persuade Indian leaders that the Coco Islands were integral to the newly formed dominions rather than being under the jurisdiction of free India.

The strategic location of Coco Islands. Image Source: File Photo

So, the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten knowing the shrewdness of Sardar Patel, took the matter to Nehru and convinced the proposal in informal terms in which he highlighted that India would lease these Islands to Britain for communication purposes.

Lord Mountbatten on July 19, 1947, reported that he had spoken to Nehru, who was quite friendly and had said that there was no objection to an official approach being made, though he could not commit himself until all implications had been considered. Following these talks, an official request to make the proposed arrangements was sent to the Government of India, which agreed to it “without prejudice”.

The decision of Nehru not to hard press the British for the control of the Coco Islands has emerged out to be another historical blunder of the former Prime Minister. These islands, which were later taken over by Burma, have now been used by the Chinese to keep an eye on India. The strategic islands are now utilised by the Chinese military to spy on the country, where they have already built an airstrip and radar station.

If it was not for Sardar Patel’s brinkmanship, perhaps, India would have lost Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands just like former Prime Minister Nehru gave away the opportunity to take control of the strategic Coco Islands, which has now emerged as a national security risk to India.

Join OpIndia's official WhatsApp channel

  Support Us  

Whether NDTV or 'The Wire', they never have to worry about funds. In name of saving democracy, they get money from various sources. We need your support to fight them. Please contribute whatever you can afford

Related Articles

Trending now

Recently Popular

- Advertisement -