P Chidambaram
P. ChidambaramReuters

Amid the 2024 Lok Sabha election buzz, the BJP government sought to challenge Congress over the 1974 decision by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to cede Katchatheevu Island to Sri Lanka. This move prompted Congress to counter, highlighting the BJP's alleged failure in curbing China's encroachment on Indian territory.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram clashed over the historical implications of the Katchatheevu Island dispute on Monday with the minister echoing PM Modi's stance, cited Nehru's indifference towards the island, aiming to undermine Congress's position.

"This is an observation by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in May of 1961. He says, I attach no importance at all to this little island, and I would have no hesitation in giving up our claim to it. I do not like matters like this pending. Indefinitely and being raised again and again in Parliament," the foreign minister quoted India's first PM as saying.

"This view continued to Indira Gandhi as well," Jaishankar added.

Senior Congress leader Chidambaram retaliated by referencing a 2015 RTI response, questioning Jaishankar's consistency and accusing PM Modi of diverting attention from China's advancements into Indian land. In this 2015 RTI response, the Narendra Modi-led government justified the circumstances under which India acknowledged that the small island belonged to Sri Lanka.

"Tit for tat is old. Tweet for Tweet is the new weapon. Will Foreign Minister Mr. Jaishankar please refer to the RTI reply dated 27-1-2015? I believe that Mr Jaishankar was the FM on 27-1-2015. The Reply justified the circumstances under which India acknowledged that the small island belonged to Sri Lanka. Why is the Foreign Minister and his ministry doing a somersault now? How quickly can people change colors? From a suave liberal Foreign Service officer to a smart Foreign Secretary to a mouthpiece of the RSS-BJP, the life and times of Mr Jaishankar will be recorded in the annals of acrobatic sports," P Chidambaram said in a post on X.

India's External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar
India's External Affairs Minister S. JaishankarIANS

P Chidambaram questioned why PM Modi raked up the 1974 Katchatheevu Island issue while Chinese troops occupied 2,000 sq km of Indian territory. He alleged that PM Modi has given a clean chit to China and should speak about what happened in the last three years.

"Why is the PM raking up an issue that was settled in 1974? In 1974, the Indira Gandhi government, in order to help lakhs of Tamils, negotiated with Sri Lanka. Katchatheevu Island was acknowledged as belonging to Sri Lanka. In return, 6 lakh Tamils were allowed to come to India. The issue was closed 50 years ago," P Chidambaram said.

"Two thousand sqare kilmoetres of Indian territory has been occupied by Chinese troops. The PM says no Chinese troops are present in Indian territory and no part of Indian territory is in occupation of Chinese troops. You gave a clean chit to China. He should talk about what has happened in the last 3 years instead of what happened 50 years ago. Chinese occupation is aggression. I would request the PM to speak about that," the former home minister said, putting the ball on to the BJP"s court as the controversy escalates.

Chidambaram went further, challenging PM Modi's priorities, questioning the resurrection of a 50-year-old issue while Chinese troops allegedly occupy significant Indian territory. He urges the PM to address current challenges rather than revisiting past agreements.

(With inputs from IANS)