One of the Asiatic region’s most powerful State leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Sri Lanka on the evening of May 11. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe welcomed Modi at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake. Modi first visited the country in 2015 March.
The recent visit was much talked about as the result of proposed agreements to be signed between the two countries and the socio-political stir the news regarding such had generated within the country. However, President Maithripala Sirisena and Indian officials gave several assurances that no agreements whatsoever would be signed during the visit.
Sirisena in a Twitter message stated that he was extremely happy at the prospect of having the opportunity of being able to meet “this wonderful, great man” in Colombo once again. Upon landing, Modi’s first stop was the Hunupitiya Gangaramaya temple, where he was welcomed by the temple’s chief incumbent, monks, MPs and Ministers.
Addressing a small function following declaring open the Vesak zone at the Gangaramaya, Modi stated that “India gave birth to Buddhism and spread it. Yet, Sri Lanka protected the great teachings of the Buddha. Emperor Dharmasoka sent his son and daughter to Sri Lanka and gave the message of the Buddha sasana to Sri Lanka. Due to the influence of Buddhism, India has gained several of its main symbols. One of the main ones is the wheel. We must share knowledge and prosperity with and among each other. Buddhism provides us with all the guidance we need in order to achieve this.”
Modi then took part in the vegetarian dinner hosted for him at the President’s House. During the meal, he held cordial discussions with Wickremesinghe, Sirisena, Government MPs and Ministers. After these talks, although unscheduled in his itinerary, he met with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Indian High Commissioner’s office in Colombo. According to Indian High Commissioner, Taranjit Singh Sidhu, Rajapaksa had praised India’s continued support to Sri Lanka. Modi had met Rajapaksa during his previous visit too.
Modi was accommodated at the Taj Samudra hotel, Colombo.
Later on May 12, delivering the first speech at the summit of the United Nations 14th International Vesak Festival at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, he further stated that “Buddhism is the main factor for relations between India and Sri Lanka being strong. The world is indebted to Sri Lanka for safeguarding the Buddhist heritage. In the future, we will help in every manner possible to bring the relationship between Sri Lanka and India to a very strong level and place. In doing so, we will take steps to start a direct flight service between Colombo and Benares/Banaras/Varanasi.” In his speech, Modi also remembered Anagarika Dharmapala, adding that “A century ago, Dharmapala had reintroduced Buddhism to India.”
He then travelled to estate and plantation areas. Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to tour the said localities. Here, he declared open the Hatton Dikoya hospital.
Afterwards, when he met the people of the estate and plantation sector, he noted that he was grateful for their loving, warm welcome. “I think that there is a commonality between you and me. The whole world has become friendly with the tea you produce. I am too, closely connected with tea,” he explained.
Of special note was Modi’s utterance that 10,000 houses would be constructed for estate and plantation sector workers. He then worshipped at the Dalada Maligawa, Kandy. Subsequently, he laid the foundation stones at several constructions which were being built with Indian sponsorship.
Modi who then left for the airport, prior to leaving the country met with Leader of the Opposition, R. Sampanthan and representatives of the Tamil National Alliance at the airport premises.