Political voices demanding retrieval of the troubled Katchatheevu island from Sri Lanka are bound to grow in the run up to the next Assembly polls. While Chief Minister and AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa, who had moved the Supreme Court to annul the 1974 and 1976 Indo-Lanka pacts ceding the island, has yet again written to the Prime Minister to retrieve the island, other party leaders are likely to toe her line.
Can raising the Katchatheevu bogey actually fetch votes for parties from the coastal regions of Rameswaram, Pudukottai and Nagapattinam? The fishing community is unwilling to commit on this now but acknowledges that their anger over the failure to retrieve the islet could echo during the polls in different forms.
“BJP leaders, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had promised to retrieve Katchatheevu, find a lasting solution to the problem and create a separate ministry for fisheries while addressing the ‘Kadal Thamarai’ conference ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, But after coming to power, they have totally ignored the fishing community,” charges N J Bose, a fishermen association leader.
As no solution was in sight and the Centre has not given any indication for retrieving Katchatheevu or to find a solution to the fishermen problems, the fishing community might boycott the assembly elections to register their protest, he cautions.
The inaction on the part of the Modi government at the Centre has certainly emboldened the Sri Lankan authorities if the frequent arrests and confiscation of boats was any indication, he feels. “We will express our protest in a fitting manner when it comes to our turn,” he adds.
With ‘Tamil pride’ being linked to the issue no politician is willing to be a passive player. “Parties can’t antagonise the fishing community as a whole. That explains why DMK president M Karunanidhi belatedly moved the Supreme Court on the issue. For that matter, TMC leader G.K. Vasan, while serving in the UPA Cabinet as Shipping Minister did not concur with the Centre that Sri Lanka had sovereign right over the island,” points out an observer.
However, another section of fishermen says that retrieving Katchatheevu may not end the problems of the fishing community but it could force Sri Lanka to come to the negotiation table for working out a solution.
“The Rameswaram fishermen might get an additional seven nautical miles in the Palk Bay if India got back the island but there is no guarantee that the Indian fishermen would confine themselves within the seven nautical miles for fishing,” contends U Arulanandham, president, Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF).
Nonetheless, A Irudhayaraj, who has been fishing in the Palk Strait for more than three decades, was of the view that the problem could be addressed to a great extent if India retrieved Katchatheevu. The fishermen who ventured 20 nautical miles inside Lankan waters could be asked to confine themselves in the seven or 10 nautical miles beyond Katchatheevu if India got back the island, he says.(The Hindu)