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Karunanidhi, taken into confidence by Indira on Katchatheevu, agreed to give SL island

NEW DELHI: “This agreement goes against the interests of the country since it amounts to pure surrender of our territory without going through any of the norms. This is an unholy and disgraceful act of statesmanship unworthy of any govt. Therefore, we do not want to associate ourselves with the statement that is going to be made by the Hon. Minister, and we want to disassociate ourselves by walking out of the House,” thundered


MP Era Sezhiyan on July 23, 1974 as the then foreign minister Swaran Singh moved to make a statement on India-Sri Lanka Maritime Agreement signed by the then

Indira Gandhi

govt by which India relinquished its claim on Katchatheevu island.

Capture 1

DMK MP Sezhiyan fumed at Indira govt for hiding island pact from TN
DMK MP Era Sezhiyan expressed anger that the Indira regime had kept Parliament and the M Karunanidhi-led DMK govt in Tamil Nadu in the dark about the “unholy agreement” and the surrender of territory. His intervention was of a piece with the many by the DMK member that had already established him as an effective Parliamentarian.

There was, however, something amiss about this particular one: The usually alert Sezhiyan was probably unaware that TN CM M Karunanidhi had given his concurrence to the agreement more than a month ago.

In fact, the DMK leader was perhaps the only person barring the PM and “one or two senior Cabinet ministers” who may have known the contours of the agreement that was in the works.


Documents accessed from MEA through RTI by chief of TN BJP, K Annamalai, show that on June 19, 1974, the then foreign secretary Kewal Singh, accompanied by director, historical division, B K Basu, called on Karunanidhi at the secretariat conference room in what was then Madras to brief the latter of the deal and returned with his “general acceptance” of it.

The official account of the meeting that lasted for over an hour and where Karunanidhi was assisted by chief secretary P Sabanayagam and, later, also home secretary S P Ambrose, thus sums up Karunanidhi’s response to the then PM Indira Gandhi’s decision to have the deal with

Sri Lanka


PM Modi leads BJP’s attack on Cong over Katchatheevu issue.

“On the substance of the proposal, the CM indicated that he was inclined to accept the suggested solution.” It also shows that Karunanidhi may have got to know of the agreement ahead of many in the Union govt and in the ruling Congress. “He ( Karunanidhi) wanted to know whether the Prime Minister has sounded the opposition. Foreign secretary said that, to his knowledge, the proposal was known only to one or two senior Cabinet ministers and that the Prime Minister would like to have the views of Tamil Nadu before discussing it with opposition leaders.”

The official narration of the exchange also brings out that Karunanidhi anticipated a public backlash against the agreement but promised that he would ensure that it remained within safe limits.
“The chief minister having signified his general acceptance of the suggested solution, said that for obvious political reasons, he could not be expected to take a public stand in favour of it. The chief minister, however, assured foreign secretary that he will help keep the reaction at a low key and would not allow it to be played up.”
“Foreign secretary appreciated the gesture and stressed that nothing should be done to embarrass the central govt or turn the affair into an issue between the Centre and State. In this connection, foreign secretary also recalled that the Tamil Nadu govt had been kept informed throughout the negotiations with Sri Lanka.”

katchatheevu island.

The documents also reveal that at one stage Karunanidhi sought to know whether the signing of the agreement could be put off for another two years, but did not press the point when the foreign secretary cited “internal” and “external constraints”, coming around to appreciate the “urgency and need for a bilaterally negotiated compromise settlement.”
Foreign secretary said that India had extracted concessions from Sri Lanka that the latter was not initially willing to concede and explained to Karunanidhi that referring the dispute for international arbitration was not going to be helpful.
Similarly, he also told TN chief secretary that “strong feelings prevalent in Tamil Nadu” was unlikely to help strengthen India’s hand in negotiations with Sri Lanka. Singh also told the chief secretary that Sri Lanka had rejected the suggestion that fishing line be made to pass through Katchatheevu.

Innocent of what had transpired, Sezyan and his DMK colleagues lashed out at foreign minister Swaran Singh who defended the agreement on June 24.
G Viswanathan, member from Wandiwash, accused the PM “of generously surrendering a part of our territory Katchatheevu, to the govt of Sri Lanka”, while also complaining “neither the state govt was consulted nor was Parliament taken into confidence before surrendering the island”.
DMK members found support from others from TN like P K M Thevar (Ramnathpuram) who belonged to Forward Bloc and IUML’s Muhammad Sheriff ( Periakulam). They were only taking off from where another DMK member from Mettur S Kandappan had left off in 1968. Angry that India was not resolute to stand up to Sri Lanka’s growing aggression over Katchatheevu, he had quoted Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev to say “weak-willed persons will never put an end to anything but will wait for the end to come.”