Signalling a growing congruence in ties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will leave for Sri Lanka today on a two-day visit to further deepen ties with the island nation where China has been trying to expand its influence.
Modi is visiting the country primarily to attend the biggest Buddhist festival ‘Vesak Day’ as its chief guest, but his schedule includes a visit to Kandy and interaction with a group of Tamil people in the upcountry region, seen as an effort to reach out to the community.
In the upcountry region, Modi will dedicate a hospital built with financial assistance of Rs 150 crore by India. It will be his second visit to Sri Lanka since becoming the prime minister.
India has been pressing Sri Lanka for devolution of power to the Tamils as part of the reconciliation process.
Briefing reporters on Modi’s visit, Joint Secretary (Indian Ocean Region) in the External Affairs Ministry, Sanjay Panda said no structured talks have been scheduled, but Modi will be interacting with the Sri Lankan leaders.
“We do not envisage any formal talks but he will be interacting with the leaders and review the relationship in its entirety. Nothing is specifically earmarked for discussion during the current visit,” he said.
On the Tamil issue, Panda said India is working closely with the Sri Lankan government over it and expressed hope that Colombo will fulfil the commitments made regarding devolution of power within next two years.
Asked about the proposed Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement (ETCA), Panda said there have been “headways” on it and hoped to finalise the pact by end of the current year.
The ‘International Day of Vesak’ celebrations, to be held in Colombo from May 12 to 14, will include an International Buddhist Conference in which over 400 delegates from more than 100 countries will participate.
Vesak, the most important day in the Buddhist calendar, marks the commemoration of Lord Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing away. Modi is also likely to take part in lamp- lighting ceremony at the Ganga Ramaya temple as part of ‘Vesak Day’ celebrations.
Panda said India’s ties with Sri Lanka have witnessed qualitative transformation in the last few years and both the countries are willing to strengthen and diversify the relationship further.
“We feel our destinies are intertwined. We hope the Prime Minister’s visit will be able to provide further momentum in the ties between the two countries,” Panda said.
In Kandy, the Prime Minister will visit the famous Dalada Maligawa which is a Buddhist temple.
The upcountry area in Sri Lanka is dominated by Tamil plantation workers who have strong bonding with Tamil Nadu and Panda said there have been lot of expectations from them to receive Modi.
Asked about the vexed fishermen issue, Panda said India was looking at getting into the root of the problem and find a permanent solution to the issue. He said Tamil Nadu government has already finalised a Rs 1,500 crore package for the fishermen of the state.
“We are looking for a permanent solution,” Panda said.
Replaying to a question on Trincomalee post issue, he said it would be pre-mature to comment on it.
Earlier this year, Sri Lanka had said “things are being finalised” with India to develop the port.
The island nation had also sought to assuage India’s unease over the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and said that it would ensure that New Delhi’s concerns were “not jeopardised”
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.