World also owes a debt of gratitude to Sri Lanka – Modi | Sunday Observer

World also owes a debt of gratitude to Sri Lanka – Modi

Last week’s visit of Indian Premier Sri Narendra Modi to inaugurate the first ever UN Vesak Day celebrations to be hosted by Sri Lanka, will be etched in gold in the country’s annals.

That is despite attempts by various groups to give it a political twist, accusing the government that it was ready to embrace the overpowering Indian influence his visit may bring upon Sri Lanka and its economy.

Sri Lanka, a tiny island nation has been playing a gigantic role to propagate Buddhism. It was during colonial rule that Sri Lanka took the initiative to design and adopt the six colour Buddhist flag that is recognized the world over today.

The country also took a bold step to declare Vesak Day a national holiday in the 1950s and later it became a UN holiday on a resolution moved by then Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in 1999. As part of the 14th UN Vesak Day celebrations, a proposal is expected to be floated calling the UN to declare it a full international holiday.

Despite the leading role it has played in the Buddhist world Sri Lanka’s bid to secure the host nation status for UN Vesak Day did not bear fruit for the past 14 years, since the country was mired in a brutal war. Then the country had to grapple with allegations of war crimes. It was mostly Thailand which did the honors of hosting the ceremony followed by Vietnam.

It was in this backdrop that the country invited the leader of its giant neighbour who hailed from the land which claims to hold the ‘nucleus of the Buddhist universe’, to raise the curtain on the 14th UN Vesak Day in Colombo. Nepali President Bidhya Devi Bhandari arrived in the country yesterday to grace the closing day ceremony in Kandy, today.

Beginning his two day working visit Modi arrived in Sri Lanka around 5.45 pm on Thursday, on an Air India Boeing 747 chartered flight. He was received on the tarmac by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, accompanied by Ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Malik Samarawickrema and Sajith Premadasa.

The visiting leader’s first appointment was at the Gangaramaya Temple, Colombo 2, to declare open the Buddharashmi Vesak Zone with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. It was jointly organized by Temple Trees and Gangaramaya Temple. Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Thera, the Chief Incumbent of the Temple ushered the Indian Premier to the ‘Seemamalakaya’ on Beria Lake.

After the opening the Premier said, ‘It would be nice to erect a Vesak pandol and such festive decorations in New Delhi during Vesak.’

His next appointment was a private dinner at President Maithripala Sirisena’s official residence. The event was attended by some members of the Cabinet and senior government officials.

Among the well noted attendees was Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran who had a seat reserved next to the Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the table.

Although the Chief Minister was not associated with the 11th hour meeting the TNA delegation had with the Indian PM at the Airport shortly before his departure on Friday evening, Wigneswaran said he had a hearty chat with the Foreign Secretary to convey his concerns. Wigneswaran was reportedly not invited to the meeting by the TNA which was off Premier Modi’s official program.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa met the visiting leader at the Indian High Commissioner’s residence after the dinner. The meeting which was also attended by former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Prof. G.L. Peiris was arranged at the request of the former President, Indian High Commissioner Tharanjit Singh said.

At the grand inauguration at the BMICH the following day, the Indian Premier said,” Buddhism imparts an ever present radiance to our relationship. It draws its strength as much through our interconnected values of Buddhism as it does from the limitless possibilities of our shared future.”

Announcing the commencement of direct flights between Colombo and Varanasi from August 2017, for the benefit of Buddhist pilgrims as well as Tamil pilgrims to the land of Kashi Viswanath, he said, “the world also owes a debt of gratitude to Sri Lanka for preserving some of the most important elements of the Buddhist heritage”.

Emphasizing on the bilateral relations in other areas he said, “India’s rapid growth can bring dividends for the entire region, especially, Sri Lanka.”

“I believe, we are at a moment of great opportunity in our ties with Sri Lanka … to achieve a quantum jump in our partnership across different fields. And, for us, the most relevant benchmark for the success of our friendship is your progress and success.

We are committed to the economic prosperity of our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters,” he added, perhaps hoping to silence the critics of the ETCA agreement.

After BMICH he headed to Hatton to ceremonially open the 150 year old Dickoya base hospital which was refurbished with Indian assistance. He was accompanied by the President and the Prime Minister. The hospital built on a request by President Sirisena who was then the health Minister is already functioning.

Next, the Indian leader attended a rally at Denver Stadium in Norwood where he was enthusiastically greeted by a large gathering of the plantation community. Organized by the CWC and the Tamil Progressive Alliance, it brought in representatives of the two rival parties on one stage.

In a speech to the workers the visiting leader promised 10,000 more houses for the estate sector. In March last year, during his first visit to Sri Lanka he pledged 4,000 houses. Later, he met the CWC and the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) leaders separately.

In the ensuing discussions with the TPA led by Minister Mano Ganesan, the Indian Prime Minister was asked assistance to set up a private university affiliated to a recognized Indian university. The discussions in this regard will continue between the High Commission officials in Colombo and later in Delhi in the future.

PM Modi has advised the plantation sector political leaders to finalize the discussions and send him a report.

From Dickoya Premier Narendra Modi proceeded to Kandy where he attended a private exposition of Sri Lanka’s most venerated Sacred Tooth Relic. He also met the Chief Prelates at the Sri Dalada Maligawa and offered ‘Atapirikara’.

Commemorating the opening of the Kandyan Dance Faculty of the International Buddhist Academy being built with Indian funding, the Indian Prime Minister opened a plaque at the Sri Dalada Maligawa.

Before leaving Kandy to the BIA to depart for India, the visiting leader was hosted to an official lunch by President Sirisena at his official residence in Kandy.

The Indian leader was met by a delegation of TNA parliamentarians at the airport. TNA leader R. Sampanthan, MPs M.A. Sumanthiran, Dharmalingam Sithadthan, Mavai Senathirajah, Selvam Addaikalanathan and former MP Suresh Premachandran attended the discussion which was off his official itinerary. A notable absentee at the meeting however was the Northern Province Chief Minister.

Inside sources said the meeting was between the leaders of the constituent parties of the TNA and MP Sumanthiran took part as the spokesman of the Alliance. “We did not purposely omit the Chief Minister, but only the leaders of the TNA parties were invited to the meeting,” he clarified.

The discussions have underscored the importance of expediting the constitution making process and the merger of the North and East.

Among the other key areas of discussion were the remaining issues of land release, the disappeared, political prisoners and the ongoing resettlement process. Shortly after the meeting, Prime Minister Modi left for New Delhi.