Would there be an Indo-Lankan war over Tamil fishing or Katchatheevu issue?
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
One is tempted to say no to such tricky and dangerous questions. But why should this question arise at all?
Today, South India sea neighbors India and Sri Lanka, notwithstanding tensions over Tamil fishermen issue, are also undertaking joint military exercises without any common objective or threat to them.
Sri lank keeps arresting and harassing Tamil fishing community from Tamil Nadu for fishing around their traditional Katchatheevu sea zone. Upon protest from Tamil Nadu government and people of the state, the Sri Lankan government has recently released most fishermen and their boats under their custody. This has been the routine occurrence and many onlookers view this sadistic pleasure of Lankan Navy forces.
Apparently there is a consensus among Tamils and Tamil Nadu government seems to support it, to push the central government to take steps to retake the Katchatheevu. Many Tamils who actively support the Tamil cause say the Tamil fishermen should be trained in military warfare and they should be armed to face the Lankan naval threat on sea.
Tamils now feel they are threatened by its sea neighbor Sri Lanka and the giving away Katchatheevu was a terrible mistake and it is high time the zone is taken back to save the Tamil fishermen as Lankan government is not at all viewing Tamils as human deserving any dignity.
Tamil media, especially the TV channels conduct serious debates on the explosive issue.
Indo-Lankan sea conflict is not necessary, whether the Lankan state hunt of Tamil fishermen is a result of some Indo-Lankan misunderstanding or mere Lankan targeting of all Tamils – Tamils who live in Lanka and in Tamil Nadu on the sea.
The Sirisena government is, they see, is no way better than the Rajapaksa regime that targeted Tamil populations and killed them l stock and barrel in a deadly war with LTTE.
In other words, Tamil fishermen and government is gradually rising to face the Lankan navy threat and solve the problem once for all on the sea.
It seems the Sirisena government views the defeat of BJP in Bihar and the rise of BJP in Kerala state which is very close to Sri Lankan island somewhat seriously while India is developing the Thiruvanathapuram airport in Kerala presumably to deal with Lankan threat to Tamils, if any. In fact, federal government is trying to evacuate the local people from near the airport to expand the airport, possibly with military equipment, which is not in need of expansion.
Lankan regime acted swiftly. On November 09 all the 126 Indian fishermen arrested by Sri Lankan Navy for allegedly poaching into the country’s waters were released by courts in the country. Of course, the release came as Sri Lanka and India completed the formalities for the release of fishermen detained in each other’s country for allegedly fishing in each other’s waters, Colombo Page reported.
All fishermen are from Tamil Nadu. Indian authorities are also expected to release 37 Sri Lankan fishermen from their custody. Only 116 Indian fishermen were released from jails today as formalities for the release of 10 others could not be completed today. The 10 fishermen had criminal charges filed against them for allegedly ramming a Sri Lankan Navy patrol craft.
Although the Attorney General has decided to withdraw the cases against the 10 fishermen, the decision was not communicated to relevant authorities in Jaffna in time. They are expected to be freed tomorrow.
Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Mahinda Amaraweera had earlier said that Sri Lanka was taking measures to release the 126 Indian fishermen as a humanitarian gesture. The Minister said that Sri Lanka will continue to hold the boats and equipment of the Indian fishermen arrested for allegedly poaching.
The Tamil Nadu fishermen are likely to be repatriated to India on Friday as the sea is “too choppy” for immediate repatriation, the paper quoted the Indian Consul General in Jaffna.
Sri Lanka accuses Indian fishermen of straying into its territorial waters, while the latter maintain they are only fishing in their traditional areas, especially around Katchatheevu, an islet ceded to Colombo in 1974.
The issue of poaching by each other’s fishermen has been recurring despite some top level engagements between the two countries since the beginning of 2014. The two countries have held top ministerial level talks in this regard and the issue figured in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka early this year when he gifted many economic projects to the island nation in order to keep China off the bay. The railway project for instance helps the Tamil regions.
The way Sri Lankan government tries to slow and its war crime investigations, presumably to support the Rajapaksa regime is not viewed positively in India. Tamil Nadu obviously is annoyed with the meddling with legal process.
India would stand by Tamils- both in India and Lanka. Today no Tamilian talks about a Tamil State as a new nation by uniting Tamil areas of Lanka and Tamil Nadu and India has no worry of losing Tamil Nadu. The Modi government is not against Tamil Nadu in any manner and as such India n has no reason not to support Tamil fishermen cause.
True, India also had supported Lankan military attack on Lankan Tamils in the name of cleansing terror network, for its own reasons.
The joint military (exercise) operations being enjoyed by India and Lanka now could easily turn to a terrible war between them which is certainly not good for Sri Lanka.
It is high time Sri Lanka gave up its anti-Tamil mindset and stop harming Tamil fishermen– they have right to live and support their families. If, however, Sri Lanka continues to attack the Tamil fishermen who fish in their traditional zones, that would complicate the bilateral relations dynamically.
Coming to the topic if there would be an Indo-Lankan war over Tamil fishing issue the answer may not be in the positive. India may not consider a war option with Lanka now especially when India is seeking from all big powers a veto seat on UNSC at any cost. However, Lankan government should not continue to harm the Tamil fishermen, thereby antagonize India.