P Chidambaram hit out at Dr S Jaishankar for his remarks on the Katchatheevu island row

New Delhi:

In a sharp response to Dr S Jaishankar’s remarks on the Katchatheevu island row, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram questioned why the foreign minister is “doing a somersault” on the issue. Mr Chidambaram also said that Dr Jaishankar’s journey from being a “suave liberal foreign service officer” to “a mouthpiece of the RSS-BJP” will be “recorded in the annals of acrobatic sports”.

The counter-strike came after Dr Jaishankar today doubled down on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charge at the Congress over the island row.

Quoting decades-old discussions in Parliament, the minister said the governments led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were indifferent to the island.

The Katchatheevu island, he said, was a “nusiance” for Nehru. It was during the Indira Gandhi government’s tenure when India gave up fishing rights near the island, he said.

The matter has become a talking point following a media report based on an RTI reply received by Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai. Dr Jaishankar stressed that the matter has not emerged suddenly, saying that it is a “live issue”. He also said that the Congress and the DMK are approaching the matter as if they have responsibility.

The recurrent arrests of Indian fishermen by Sri Lanka is an issue that finds resonance among the people. With the elections near, the BJP wants to play up this matter as it pushes for a better show in the southern state. The Prime Minister has accused the Congress of “callously” giving away the island to Sri Lanka and said the DMK had done nothing to safeguard Tamil Nadu’s interests.

Taking to X, formerly Twitter, Mr Chidambaram said, “It is true that Fishermen were detained in the last 50 years. Likewise, India has detained many SL fishermen. Every government has negotiated with Sri Lanka and freed our fishermen. This has happened when Mr Jaishankar was a foreign service officer and when he was Foreign Secretary and when he is Foreign Minister.”

“What has changed for Mr Jaishankar to launch a tirade against the Congress and DMK? Were not fishermen detained by Sri Lanka when Mr Vajpayee was PM and BJP was in power and in alliance with different political parties of TN? Were not fishermen detained by Sri Lanka when Mr Modi was in power since 2014?” he added.

The Congress leader said “tit for tat is old” and “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 a small island belonged to Sri Lanka. Why is the Foreign Minister and his ministry doing a somersault now?” asked Mr Chidambaram, a Tamil Nadu leader and former Home Minister. 

He then took a personal swipe at the External Affairs Minister. “How quickly can people change colours. From a suave liberal Foreign Service officer to a smart Foreign Secretary to a mouthpiece of the RSS-BJP, life and times of Mr Jaishankar will be recorded in the annals of acrobatic sports,” he said, referring to the minister, who went from being a diplomat to joining the government.

Mr Chidambaram said the pact between India and Sri Lanka helped Tamil refugees from the island come and settle in India. “Why did Indira Gandhi acknowledge that it belonged to Sri Lanka? Millions of Tamils, as many as 6 lakh Tamils, were suffering in Sri Lanka. They had to come to India as refugees and settle here. As a result of this settlement, 6 lakh Tamils came to India. They have lived in this country for the last 50 years, their families are here. They enjoy freedom,” he said.

The DMK, too, has hit out at the BJP over the issue. DMK’s A Saravanan said the External Affairs Minister has said nothing new. “The question is why the BJP is raking up this issue now. Because they are scared, they know they are going to lose this election and in Tamil Nadu, they are facing a rout. The Prime Minister cannot answer the question, why no flood relief for Tamil Nadu. He is now bringing up false bogeys,” he said.


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