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Indian Diplomats Warn of BJP’s Katchatheevu Saga

Notable figures including former National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao have expressed apprehensions over the potential diplomatic ramifications of revisiting the decades-old agreement.

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Kachchatheevu [ File Photo]

Former Indian diplomats have issued a stern caution to the Indian government regarding any potential reconsideration of the 1974 India-Sri Lanka agreement on Katchatheevu island. These warnings come amidst speculations following recent statements by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, raising concerns about a possible shift in the government’s stance on the issue.

Notable figures including former National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao have expressed apprehensions over the potential diplomatic ramifications of revisiting the decades-old agreement. They emphasized that any alteration to India’s position on Katchatheevu could not only strain relations with neighbouring countries but also undermine India’s credibility in the region.

Former envoys highlighted the consistency in India’s stance on Katchatheevu over the years, emphasizing the need to uphold the sanctity of agreements made by previous governments. They stressed that sovereignty and territorial integrity are fundamental principles that should remain unaffected by political transitions.

According to former National Security Adviser (2010-2014) Shiv Shankar Menon, reopening the half-century-old agreement by the government could be a “self-goal”.

“The situation on the ground is hard to reverse, but such issues being raised by the country’s leadership will damage the credibility of the country and could be a self-goal,” Mr. Menon, who served as Foreign Secretary (2006 2009) and India’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka (1997-2000), told The Hindu.

Moreover, the diplomats underscored the positive impact of the 1974 agreement on improving relations between India and Sri Lanka. They pointed out that similar agreements with other neighbouring countries, such as Bangladesh, had led to significant diplomatic breakthroughs and enhanced regional stability.

The concerns raised by the former diplomats come amidst ongoing debates in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu, where the issue of Indian fishermen’s rights near Katchatheevu has been a recurring point of contention. However, the diplomats cautioned against allowing domestic political pressures to dictate India’s foreign policy decisions.

“Sovereignty and territorial integrity are not issues where the government’s position changes when there is a change in government. If the government were to reopen old agreements, it would set a bad example,” said former High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok Kantha, who added that the “whole architecture” of agreements with India’s neighbour could be “damaged if there is a change in the original understanding”.

The Indian government’s consistent stance on Katchatheevu, as reflected in parliamentary replies and court submissions, underscores the complexity of the issue, especially considering its legal implications.

As the government faces increasing scrutiny over its handling of key diplomatic matters, the cautionary words of former diplomats serve as a reminder of the delicate balance required in navigating India’s relations with its neighbours while safeguarding its national interests. Any deviation from established diplomatic norms, they warn, could have far-reaching consequences for India’s standing in the region.

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

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