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No Need to Worry about China’s Old Tactics in Arunachal; Congress And DMK Must Explain on Katchatheevu: Harsh Shringla to News18 – News18

Former foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. File pic/PTI

Former foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. File pic/PTI

The former foreign secretary said that the public has a right to know the truth behind the handing over of the island by the Indira Gandhi government to Sri Lanka

India’s approach in recent years of firmly dealing with issues related to foreign policy coupled with a “nation first” attitude has served the country’s interests well, said former foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in an exclusive conversation with CNN-News18 when asked about China’s renewed antics of renaming places in Arunachal Pradesh.

“The PLA has always resorted to tactics that give them an advantage on boundary,” said Shringla, who was also the chief coordinator for India’s G20 Presidency in 2023. “We don’t need to be worried…We have always displayed a firm attitude towards Chinese attempts…In 2020 the attempts were met very firmly…and the same was with Doklam.”

According to reports, China has renamed 11 residential areas, 12 mountains, four rivers, one lake, one mountain pass, and one piece of land of Arunachal Pradesh as Beijing steps up assertions in recent weeks to re-emphasise its claim over the northeast Indian state.

“From their perspective, they have a suspicious claim,” said Shringla. “They are trying to show that it is their territory…We have to be resolute upon this…Just by naming these, you don’t get them…Our maps are based on our depiction of boundary…I don’t think we need to do this kind of cartographical aggression.”

India has said that Beijing may “repeat its baseless claims” as many times as it wants but that is not going to change New Delhi’s position that Arunachal Pradesh “was, is and will always remain” an integral and inalienable part of the country.

With the Lok Sabha elections set to begin on April 19, the tiny island of Katchatheevu between India and Sri Lanka on Palk Strait has become the latest flashpoint between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. The disputed area was given to Sri Lanka by the government headed by late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi through an agreement in 1974, and PM Narendra Modi as well as other BJP leaders have used the issue to target the Congress and its ally DMK, which is in power in Tamil Nadu where the saffron party is pushing to gain ground.

“Officially when there is a question in Parliament…you just respond on a factual basis,” said Shringla. “But now there is a political imperative after RTI…I can say that the document that has come out is very timely…Public needs to know on what basis their leaders have taken those decisions.”

An RTI response obtained by Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai reignited the issue after he sought details on the decision of the Indira Gandhi government to hand over the island, which has always been a grouse in the southern state.

“This is 50 years since the incident,” Shringla said. “Many classified documents are declassified after 50 years…During British times…Ceylon made a claim for the island…The British kept it with India…Post-Independence also we had a strong case…Still the Congress went ahead with giving the island to Sri Lanka…It’s not just an island, it came with fishing rights…A sovereign government giving an island to Sri Lanka…was not only incorrect but it is a breach of faith.”

With the Congress being an ally of Tamil Nadu’s ruling DMK, the BJP is hoping to gain political traction in the state dominated by Dravidian politics.

“The records indicate that (late DMK leader) Karunanidhi was briefed many times…And he knew everything…It deprived Indian fishermen to fish in a very lucrative area,” said Shringla. “If the situation was like this…PM Modi would not have allowed this to happen…The Congress and DMK should explain to people about their actions. DMK has always been very vocal for fishermen’s rights…It went to court for the island, but this is a double standard…because the party knew everything. Katchatheevu is closer to India than Sri Lanka…There was no reason for the Congress to take this decision.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted on social media site X about how the Congress “callously” gave away the Katchatheevu island to Sri Lanka, which “angered every Indian and reaffirmed in people’s minds – we cannot ever trust Congress”.

On the timing of the revelation, Shringla told CNN-News18, “50 years down the line when the documents have been declassified…public has the right to know. There is no harm in bringing it out…Congress was behind it but DMK was also a part of that decision.”

The island is of importance as China looks to expand its footprint in the Indian Ocean Region. “Sri Lanka can give the island to companies, and it can be a serious security issue,” Shringla said. “They said that we have to give the island for our security concerns…Take the island if you have security concerns.”

After India’s independence, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave no importance to the island and thought that the issue would lead to an unnecessary dispute with friendly Sri Lanka, according to external affairs minister S Jaishankar.

“Jaishankar ji has said that we can look at exploring in discussions with Sri Lanka for fishing rights in and around Katchatheevu. It is a very reasonable approach to deal with the situation,” Shringla said. “Nehru was preoccupied…He wanted global peace…He was ready to sacrifice the nation…And in contrast, PM Modi thinks about global peace with a nation-first approach.”

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