Prime Minister Narendra Modi has wrapped up his surprise neighborhood visit to Sri Lanka and Maldives after taking up the office for a second term. On Sunday, he made a powerful case for cooperation against terrorism and reaffirmed commitment to all neighbouring nations. He also endorsed Sri Lankan tourism and said the country is safe again.
Modi's visit comes as a strong gesture of solidarity with the island country, as he is the first foreign leader to set foot after the horrific April 21 Easter Sunday terror attacks. After talks with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, he tweeted, “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's first stop in Sri Lanka was at St Anthony's church, a target of a devastating attack. Paying tributes to victims, he 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."
On arrival in Colombo, Modi was received by his counterpart Ranil Wickremasinghe, who also personally saw him off at the end of the engagement-packed visit. During his visit, the Indian leader held discussions with Sirisena, paying equal attention to both offices. He met the entire Lankan cabinet during a working lunch organised by Sirisena, along with the Chief Ministers of all nine provinces.
Modi was later called upon by Opposition leader and former president Mahinda Rajapakse at India House, as well as a delegation of the Tamil National Alliance, led by R Sampanthan. Staying true to character, he also met a group of Indians at the high commissioner's residence in Colombo.
In his visit, Modi made sure to stay clear of the evident tension between Sirisena and Wickremasinghe. During his meeting with the former, he assured full support to further strengthen bilateral development partnership, including through people oriented projects in the nation. Indian officials said that a spontaneous gesture by Sirisena during the ceremonial reception, of holding an umbrella over Modi's head, deeply warmed the Indian PM.
Sirisena also gifted Modi a replica of the famous Samadhi Buddha statue. Before returning home, Modi said, "Sri Lanka has a special place in our hearts. I assure my sisters and brothers of Sri Lanka that India will always be there with you and support your nation's progress. Thank you for the memorable welcome and hospitality."
PM reaches out to Male
In a clear dig at China, Prime Minister Modi told the Maldivian Parliament that India’s developmental partnership is intended to empower and not weaken and was not meant to increase dependence of others on it or bury future generations under burden of debt. Without naming Pakistan, Modi also said that state sponsorship of terrorism was one of the biggest dangers to the world - a message that was expected to resonate with his audience given that Maldives has been grappling with the problem of radicalisation. He said India is committed to a “Neighbourhood First” approach and sees the region as an area of growth and security.
Modi’s reference to the perils of heedless borrowing is significant given that the Maldives is seen as one of the victims of China’s ‘debt-trap’ diplomacy. “We don’t want to either increase people’s dependence on us or to leave their future generations with an impossible burden of debt,’’ Modi said in his speech at the People’s Majlis in Male. One of the main reasons for Modi not visiting the Maldives during his first term was the attempt by the previous Abdulla Yameen government to play China against India. The Maldives is still trying to figure out how much it owes to China but several reports from Male have stated that Yameen’s policies resulted in the country owing almost 70% of its external debt to China.
PM Modi also called for a global conference on terrorism describing the menace as one of the biggest challenges facing the world. “Terrorists neither have banks nor weapon factories but they are still able to access these. How is that possible? Who provides them with these?’’ he said.
“Terrorism is not a threat to any country or region but to the entire humanity. It is really unfortunate that we still distinguish between good terrorists and bad terrorists. We have lost a lot of time because of petty differences. Paani sir se upar ja chuka hai (it has become intolerable),’’ said Modi, adding that all forces needed to unite against terrorism and radicalisation.