Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka was to participate in the celebrations marking the UN Vesak Day, the most important in the Buddhist calendar.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his visit to Sri Lanka was a sign of “strong relationship” between the two countries and to bring fore the shared heritage of Buddhism.
Vesak Day commemorates Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment (Buddahood) and passing away, death (Parinirvana) of Gautama Buddha in the Theravada or southern tradition.
Vaisakha also known as Buddha Purnima and Buddha Day, is a holiday observed traditionally by Buddhists on different days in India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar and in other places all over the world.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared on Friday his desire for a “quantum jump” in relations with Sri Lanka, as New Delhi jostles with regional rival Beijing for influence in the island nation.
India had always considered its smaller neighbour to be within its sphere of influence but watched Sri Lanka drift closer to China under former strongman President Mahinda Rajapakse.
This was PM Narendra Modi’s second bilateral visit to Sri Lanka in two years, since coming to power in 2014. His visit was aimed toward reinforcing the traditional connect between India and Sri Lanka at a time when China is seeking to make inroads in the island nation.
The International Day of Vesak, celebrations, was held in Colombo from 12 to 14 May, which included an International Buddhist Conference in which over 400 delegates from more than 100 countries participated.
The path shown by Lord Buddha speaks to us all. It has been an unifying force among nations.
The themes of social justice and sustainable world peace, chosen for Vesak Day, resonate deeply with Lord Buddha’s teachings.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Sri Lanka, comes after a gap of 158 days, the longest between his two foreign trips after he went to Japan in November last year.
The gap this time around has been attributed to a hectic domestic schedule of the PM due to the assembly elections in 5 states as well as other national issues. Also, he had to focus on national issues such as demonetisation, rolling out of GST etc.,”sources said.
Chinese-backed projects soared under Rajapakse, who relied heavily on Beijing for economic and diplomatic support as Western nations threatened his administration with sanctions over atrocities committed during the decades-long civil war which ended in 2009.
“I believe we are at a moment of great opportunity in our ties with Sri Lanka. An opportunity to achieve a quantum jump in our partnership across different fields,” Modi told a Buddhist conference in Colombo.
His comments came as Sri Lanka rebuffed a Chinese request to dock a submarine at one of its ports.
“It is a great pleasure to be here today. I am most grateful for your warm and enthusiastic welcome.You and I have something in common. Some of you may have heard, I have a special association with tea”.
“People all over the world are familiar with the famous Ceylon tea that originated on this fertile land. We remember your forefathers. Men and women of strong will and courage, who undertook the journey of their life from India to then-Ceylon”.
“Our key national symbol, such as the wheel, Chakra, is taken from Buddhism”.
“Today, Sri Lanka takes pride in being one of the most important centres of Buddhism.Though Buddhism started and spread from India, Sri Lanka has preserved some of its most sacred teachings. You have taken us back to our roots”, he said.
“Mahindra and Sanghamitra, the children of Emperor Ashoka, made their journey from India to Sri Lanka to spread the biggest gift of Dhamma”.“Dhamma as taught by the Buddha is simple and easy to practice. It is about ourselves and how we can be free from personal suffering. As suffering beings we are deluded about the truths of our body and mind. “
“We are committed to the progress and success of Sri Lanka. Our strength lies in sharing our knowledge and prosperity. Free flow of trade, technology and ideas will benefit us mutually.”
“We share important goals in infrastructure, connectivity, transport and energy”.
“My discussion with the Sri Lankan President Sirisena and PM Wickeremesinghe has only strengthened our relationship to stand together as partners”.
Modi flew to the island’s tea growing central district of Nuwara Eliya on Friday to open an India-gifted hospital and address tens of thousands of plantation workers of Indian origin.
“As some of you may have heard, I have a special association with tea,” he told workers, referring to his modest beginnings selling tea in the Indian state of Gujarat when he was a child.
“It was a tremendous honour to be the first Indian Prime Minister ever to visit this beautiful region of Sri Lanka.”
He promised another 10,000 houses in addition to the 4,000 that India is currently funding for ethnic Tamil plantation workers who are among the poorest in the country of 21 million.
Modi visited the up country region of Sri Lanka where he inaugurated the Dickoya Hospital that was built with Indian assistance, and had interaction with the Indian-origin Tamil community.
He addressed Indian-origin Tamils against the backdrop of India’s insistence that Sri Lanka should undertake devolution of power to the ethnic community as part of the reconciliation process.
Modi left on Friday evening after receiving a special blessing at the revered Sri Dalada Maligawa ,also known as the, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist shrine, in the town of Kandy.
This time, there has been no opposition or any protest on the streets against the visit of Modi. Apart from a statement from DMK working president M K Stalin asking Modi to use his influence to secure the release of fishermen in Lankan prison along with their boats, no other party leader has released any statement opposing the visit.
Modi had travelled to Sri Lanka in March 2015. His visit to Sri Lanka comes close on the heels of a trip by his counterpart Ranil Wickremesinghe here.
During that visit, the two countries had signed a pact to boost economic ties as Modi and Wickremesinghe discussed a range of bilateral issues and matters of mutual interest. The pact provided a framework to identify the infrastructure projects where India could invest.