PM Modi visits Sri Lanka

Wrapping up his first neighbourhood visit with a packed day in Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a powerful case for cooperation against terrorism, reaffirmed India’s commitment to its neighbours and endorsed the fact that Sri Lanka was safe for tourism.

As the first foreign leader to visit Sri Lanka after the April 21 Easter Sunday terror attacks, Modi’s visit is a strong gesture of solidarity with the island nation. “Met President Maithripala Sirisena, our second meeting in 10 days. President Sirisena and I agreed that terrorism is a joint threat that needs collective and focused action. Reiterated India’s commitment to partner with Sri Lanka for a shared, secure and prosperous future,” Modi tweeted.

Modi’s first stop was at St Anthony’s Church which had suffered a devastating attack. He paid tributes to victims of the terror strikes at the church and said, “I am confident Sri Lanka will rise again. Cowardly acts of terror cannot defeat the spirit of Sri Lanka. India stands in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka.”

Attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels were claimed by the Islamic State, but carried out by a local outfit named National Tawheed Jamaat.

Modi’s first neighbourhood visits were significant for the messages they sent — solidarity with closest neighbours who had not too long ago drifted into China’s orbit — and an expression of determination to fight terrorism together. The emphasis on the same message in Muslim Maldives and predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka was deliberate.

A renewed focus on the Indian Ocean Region and a signal to powers like China that India would remain the primary power in this region was clear.

Modi held detailed discussions with Sirisena, paying equal attention to both offices. At a working lunch organised by the president, Modi met the entire Lankan cabinet, as well as chief ministers of all nine provinces. Later, he met opposition leader and former president Mahinda Rajapakse at India House as well as a delegation of the Tamil National Alliance, led by R Sampanthan. As is customary for Modi, he met a group of Indians at the high commissioner’s residence in Colombo. Despite the evident tension between Sirisena and Wickremasinghe, Modi was careful to stay clear of it.

Sri Lanka is expected to go for presidential elections on December 7, and addressing journalists in New Delhi last week, Sirisena was non-committal about his candidature.

Indian officials noted that a spontaneous gesture by Sirisena during the ceremonial reception, of holding an umbrella over Modi’s head, deeply touched the PM. Sirisena also gifted him a replica of the famous Samadhi Buddha statue. Modi planted a sapling of an evergreen Ashoka tree at the President’s House.

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