Katchatheevu: BJP's Island Of No Return

Katchatheevu: BJP's Island Of No Return

It is not a coincidence that two of the most vociferous choristers of Prime Minister Modi on the question of Katchatheevu should both be Tamilians (Nirmala Sitharaman and Dr S Jaishankar) and both do not have the courage to contest the Lok Sabha elections; neither of them is capable of winning from anywhere.

V SudarshanUpdated: Wednesday, April 03, 2024, 08:14 AM IST
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Mumbai: It is not a coincidence that two of the most vociferous choristers of Prime Minister Modi on the question of Katchatheevu should both be Tamilians (Nirmala Sitharaman and Dr S Jaishankar) and both do not have the courage to contest the Lok Sabha elections; neither of them is capable of winning from anywhere. Not even from Tamil Nadu where the BJP finds itself between a rock and a hard place.

It is no secret in Tamil Nadu that even if Prime Minister Modi were to camp in Tamil Nadu for the next month and a half, pretty much the same way he did in Karnataka for the assemby elections -- and utter only one word -- Katchatheevu -- the BJP is not likely to cull even one extra vote over this spurious controversy which is one hundred per cent bogus.

Consider the optics: The foreign minister goes to the BJP headquarters to dilate for half an hour on a party matter. It is a party matter because of the importance the BJP has placed on prising open the Tamil Nadu poll kitty. Having been unable to persuade the AIADMK to ally with it, largely so that it could piggy-back on the ‘Two Leaves’ symbol, the BJP has tried to sew desparate alliances to claw its way into the electoral scene. It is a far cry, though.

Essentially, the AIADMK feared the political kiss of death, if they aligned with the BJP, something the BJD in Odisha saw through at the last moment. The AIADMK knew they would lose all the minority votes, had they gone with the BJP. The marriage failed.

Now consider the fisher folk. A bulk of them are Christians. The sole structure in Katchatheevu island is a turn of the last century church where the patron saint of the fisherfolk, St Anthony, presides.

The word for the laity from the pulpil of churches big and small in Tamil Nadu is one of caution where the BJP is concerned. It is heavily coloured by what the Christians have been seeing in Manipur and elsewhere. The Prime Minister's continued blathering on Kacthatheevu is not going to land any extra votes into this net that the BJP is spreading in the Palk Straits.

The issues of Katchatheevu and fishing are two separate issues. Foreign Minister Jaishankar's tawdry attempt to conflate the two is nothing short of diplomatic chicanery. Katchatheevu is a small island not more than fifteen nautical miles from Rameswaram, less than 300 acres in area, with no source of potable water.

It is devoid of habitation. It is significant for two reasons. One, an annual pilgrimage to the island for a festival in the church where both Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil Christians flock. Otherwise the rocks skirting the island served to help dry the fishing nets of Indian fisherfolk. There is nothing more left to milk out of Katchatheevu.

The External Affairs Minister repeatedly injected a note of derision by using the phrase "little rock" to describe the way Prime Minister's favourite bugbear, Pandit Nehru, thought of the island. Not once in his half an hour exposition did he explain how strategically important Katchatheevu was in the terms of diplomacy or in terms of foreign policy.

Neither did he detail even one small baby step which the BJP government took in the last ten years to retrieve the situation. All we got was political hogwash. At the same time he smugly kept retreating behind the cover of the phrase "sub judice".

So far the Sri Lankans have observed the proceedings half in bemusement, because they know that this bogey of Katchatheevu is solely aimed at Tamil Nadu's EVM machines. It is possible the Sri Lankans have been briefed in private. Which explains their studied silence on this matter.

But if the tone gets anymore shrill, they could scurry again to cry on Chinese shoulders. The Prime Minister has pulled himself down many notches by initiating and leading this smear campaign. It is abig fall from the G 20 grandstanding.

The fact is the BJP planners for this bomblet – there is no other way to describe it – got the timing wrong. The festival is usually in February or March. The External Affairs Minister timed it perfectly in one sense though – on All Fool Day. It will blow up on their faces.

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