DC Edit | Is EAM ignoring TN concerns?

Just two days after external affairs minister S. Jaishankar was on Sri Lankan soil, exuding bonhomie with a wide range of political leaders, including President Ranil Wickremesinghe, 22 fishermen from Tamil Nadu were arrested near Deft Island and three mechanised boats, along with their catch, were seized by the island nation’s navy. The fishermen, who have hence been incarcerated, had been on a long sabbatical till a week before that and were hopeful of making up for the loss incurred during the 61-day annual fishing ban when the Navy struck.

Of course, it has now become de rigueur for that Navy to pick up Indians from their traditional fishing ground in the Palk Straits that the latest seizure of boats has only added to the pile of over 150 impounded mechanised vessels stuck at various ports of Sri Lanka. While the fishing community in Rameswaram is angry over the detention of the men and their boats, what others are wondering is: What sweet nothing did Jaishankar whisper into the ears of Wickremesinghe and other Lankan leaders without expressing consternation over their Navy’s recurring highhandedness.

Exulting over the latest sojourn of Jaishankar, who has already been there in January 2021, March 2022, January 2023 and October 2023, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that the visit ‘underscored the central place Sri Lanka occupied in India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy’ and spoke about ‘deeper long-term economic cooperation.’ It forgot that the real thorn in the flesh of diplomatic relations that needs to be removed is the continuing arrests in Palk Straits that have left the fishing community with a sense of insecurity and fear over the neighbour.

Since Jaishankar is very much aware of the persisting problem as he receives an SOS every time an arrest is made and asked to intervene, it is surprising that he did not take up the matter with the island nation’s leaders. Don’t the interests of fishermen come under the ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy? If the MEA wants ‘a stronger India-Sri Lanka partnership,’ should not Jaishankar have sorted out the fishermen’s problem first?

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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