Friday, April 12, 2024

From Katchatheevu To Kabo Valley : Nehru-Gandhi Family’s Role In India’s Territorial Loss

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Recently, BJP chief Annamalai disclosed the documents obtained by RTI application. These official documents containing the records of the parliament revealed how India lost its key territorial Katchatheevu island. They show how India lost it’s key strategic island in the Palk strait to Sri Lanka under the then Nehru-Gandhi led government.

Gifting Katchatheevu Island-

Situated between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Strait, Katchatheevu is a 285-acre island. It lies northeast of Rameswaram and is about 24 Kms from it. The island is not only strategically important but is also important for source of earning for Indian fishermen in Tamil Nadu.

Post independence, Sri Lanka then Ceylon, started asserting its claim over the island by stating that Indian Navy cannot exercise over the island without its permission. In Oct 1955, Sri Lanka conducted it’s Airforce exercise on the island.

However, when this topic was raised, PM Nehru on May 10, 1961, dismissed the issue as inconsequential. He wrote,

“I attach no importance at all to this little island and I would have no hesitation in giving up our claims to it.”

In 1960, the then Attorney General MC Setalvad stated that India had a stronger claim on the island. But in 1974, PM Indira Gandhi decided to cede the control of Katchatheevu island. The handover was finalised via Indo-Sri Lankan agreement signed between PM Indira Gandhi and PM of Sri Lanka, Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

This was done despite MC Setalvad stating that, ” The matter is by no means clear or free from difficulty but on an assessment of the whole evidence it appears to me that the balance lies in concluding that the sovereignty of India was and is in India.”

K Krishna Rao, Joint Secretary in MEA, wrote in 1960 that “India has a good legal case” for securing fishing rights. Still in 1974, the then government under the leadership of PM Indira Gandhi relinquished its claim over the island. In fact, it signed a voluntary agreement with Sri Lanka that led to the loss of control. Instead of opposing the Centre’s decision, the then DMK’s CM of Tamil Nadu, M Karunanidhi accepted the proposal.

Over the last 20 years, Sri Lanka has detained more than 6180 fishermen due to this grave foresight.

Gifting Coco Island-

PM Nehru, didn’t just lose POK and Aksai Chin but his lack of strategic thinking and his dismissive attitude led to the forfeiture of exceptionally important – Coco Island. The island lies approximately 1076 Kms from the Kolkata coast in the Indian Ocean.

In the 19th century, the British established a colony in Andaman for holding convicted political prisoners. The food for them used to come from the Coco Islands which the Britishers leased to the Jadwaite family of Burma. In 1882, it became part of British Burma but when Burma became independent in 1937, coco remained as a self- governing island.

As the British decided to leave India in 1947, the status of the Coco Islands remained uncertain, much like the Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. During the last days of British control in India, imperial authorities were considering ways to prevent India from becoming a strong and an independent nation.

As per the Indian Independence Bill, like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands the coco island should also have become part of India. But the Britishers wanted to maintain their strategic influence in that region.

So Mountbatten asked PM Nehru to give it on lease to Britian and on 19th July 1947, he informed that the Indian Government had agreed to it “without prejudice.”

Gifting Kabo Valley-

The lush green Kabo Valley which spans over 11000 Kms has been part of Kingdom of Manipur with records dating back to atleast 1450. Following their annexation of Manipur, the British, after consulting with Maharaja Gambhir Singh of Manipur, leased the valley to Burma in 1834.

Burma agreed to compensate the kingdom of Manipur with 500 sicca rupees each month. But with the express condition that Manipur retained the rights to reclaim the territory at any time. This was done via the treatise of 1834 at Langthabal between Major Grand, Captain Pemberton and Maharaja Gambhir Singh. It clearly shows that in any case Manipur has the right to reclaim this land.

However, the payment of compensation continued until Manipur joined the Union of India, after which the land’s restitution fell to the Government of India. But instead of reclaiming the island, PM Nehru in a way gifted it to Burma in 1954.

On 13th January 1954, PM Nehru handed over the rights of the land to Burma without even seeking the consent of the people of Manipur. Soon after Nehru’s consent Burma stopped paying and annexed the valley.


All in all, the Nehru-Gandhi family led government didn’t just commit Himalayan Blunders but also Indian Ocean Blunders. However, one should not brush such blunders under the carpet as some historical human error. For India is still facing their consequences ! The same Coco island which could have given India a strategic advantage is now part of China‘s “String of Pearls” initiative. It has Chinese Airstrip of around 2500 meters which it used solely for military purposes.

In the last 20 years, Sri Lanka has detained around 6184 Indian fishermen and have seized approximately 1175 Indian fishing vessels. This happened due to the handover of Katchatheevu island in 1974 by Indira Gandhi. From Aksai Chin to Balochistan to POK to Coco to Kabo Valley and Katchatheevu island all are but a string of blunders in Foreign Policy.

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