External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday said former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had a “dismissive attitude” towards the territorial issues that led to giving away of Katchatheevu island and fishing rights to Sri Lanka.

He also accused DMK of “conniving” with the Congress on both the issues and pretending now as if they bear no responsibility towards such blunders committed in the past.

Extensive briefing

The External Affairs Minister’s extensive briefing to amplify the issue comes a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had lashed out at the Congress for compromising the country’s integrity on the matter of Katchatheevu Island at a public rally in Meerut on Sunday.

Jaishankar, who came prepared with government records at a BJP press conference, told reporters that Nehru wrote in May 1961: “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.” So, for Pandit Nehru, this was a “little island, it had no importance, and he saw it as a nuisance.. For him, the sooner you give it away, the better,” the Foreign Minister said.

Jaishankar said this “indifferent” view continued through former PM Indira Gandhi. She referred to the island as “a small rock”.

Jaishankar quoted MP G. Viswanathan from Tamil Nadu as saying: “We are worried about Diego Garcia, thousands of miles away from the Indian territory, but we are not worried about this small island. The PM (Indira Gandhi) is said to have remarked in the AICC meeting that this is a little rock. I am reminded of those days when Pandit Nehru called about our northern boundary as a place where not a blade of grass grew. I would like to remind the PM that after this historic statement by PM Nehru, he never regained the confidence of the country. The same is going to happen to the PM (Indira Gandhi) when she says that this is only a little rock and that there is nothing to worry about the territories of our country.”

The Union Minister stated that “... So, this is not just one PM... This dismissive attitude...was the historic Congress attitude towards Katchatheevu...” Answering a question about why the BJP is raking it up now, he said: “it’s not only important for public to know who did it, but who hid it all these years”.

Legal opinions

In that context, he read out two legal opinions sought on the Katchatheevu island during that time including that of former Attorney General of India MC Setalvad, and stated that they were ignored. Noted legal luminary Setalvad said in 1958 that the matter was “by no means clear” but the “sovereignty was and is with India.”

According to him, in the last 20 years, 6,184 Indian fishermen have been detained by Sri Lanka and 1175 Indian fishing vessels have been seized, detained or apprehended by Sri Lanka.