The ‘Modi-style Vesak message’
Posted on May 14th, 2017

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan Courtesy Ceylon Today

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on being invited to participate at the International Vesak Day celebration last week, attached the Buddha’s message to his strong economic interest, gift of love and kindness to the Tamils of Indian origin while reiterating India’s willingness to join hands in achieving common goals with the leaders of the little neighbouring island Sri Lanka.

While Sri Lanka is at a crossroad whether or not to sign the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) between the two countries that would take India one step closer to Sri Lanka, and Modi’s visit with gift packs could upset Delhi if Colombo does not fall in line.

For India, the ETCA deal is a small fraction of their gigantic economy and it will not upset them financially. However ETCA, if endorsed will bring about a major closeness between both countries as India is highly worried over the strong presence of the Chinese who have pushed Sri Lanka into a ‘debt trap’ and is demanding more and more from the island nation.

Chinas debt trap a worry

India is against China’s move to trap Sri Lanka into a ‘debt trap’. India’s concern is that China is using the debt issue to grab more projects and investments in Sri Lanka.

It is a situation where the borrower is unable to pay back and the lender takes the property in return.

India’s main interest is to keep the Chinese at bay as Modi explained subtly on India’s development cooperation with Sri Lanka amounting to US$ 2.6 billion with the aim of supporting Sri Lanka in realizing a peaceful, prosperous and secure future for its people.

He noted that the economic and social well being of the people of Sri Lanka is linked with that of 1.25 billion Indians and whether it is on land or in the Indian Ocean, the security of our societies is indivisible.

Modi’s remarkable speech with an impressive home study on Buddha’s teachings at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH), on Friday, where he projected India’s connection with Sri Lanka runs into several millennia spiritually, physically, traditionally and emotionally and that those links would continue on the same length. He noted India’s key national symbols have taken inspiration from Buddhism too.

While Modi saw a vivid practical approach through Buddhism in terms of trade, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe delivered speeches on how Buddhism could shape the world in its present context. They spoke greatly about how Buddhism could bring sustainable peace. The President said Theravada Buddhism brings many solutions for social, economic, and political woes nationally and internationally while Premier Wickremesinghe noted that Buddhism gave the right to seek the truth and said ‘one who conquers his own mind gains the greatest victory’.

Premier Modi even had something to thank Sri Lanka for. He recollected Anagarika Dharmapala, centuries after Buddhism spread from India. He said Dharmapala revived the spirit of Buddha in the land of its origin. “In some way, you took us back to our own roots. The world also owes a debt of gratitude to Sri Lanka for preserving some of the most important elements of Buddhist heritage. Vesak is an occasion for us to celebrate this unbroken shared heritage of Buddhism – a heritage that connects our societies across generations and through centuries, Modi noted.

At a time the Modi government has been highly criticized by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who alleged that Delhi had a hand in toppling his government, the visiting Indian Premier left all that aside and met with the man who accused him on the very same day of his arrival.

When Modi was elected to office, the then Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa told Ceylon Today, ‘Modi is like my brother and we have ‘lots in common’. It is perhaps the reason why the Rajapaksas still want to see Modi.

Rajapaksa met with Modi even though some close associates had called for the hoisting of black flags to protest the Indian PM’s visit to the country. Modi humbly accepted the Rajapaksa’s invitation purely as a symbol of ‘Sil’ or ‘Proper conduct’ as Modi said at the BMICH.

Modi bridged Buddhism urging people to contemplate on the ten perfections at a time like Vesak, which he mentioned as:

generosity; proper conduct, renunciation, wisdom, energy, tolerance, truthfulness, determination, loving kindness and equanimity.

As a part of generosity was the offer from Air India to begin its direct operation from August this year to fly Sri Lankan pilgrims to Varanasi and then went off to Norwood to offer the rest of his help packages.

The best gifts to the Tamils of Indian Origin

On a chilly afternoon, an unprecedented crowd gathered at the Norwood Grounds to see the man from their original land. Modi was invited to open the newly built hospital that was funded by India.

Minister and Leader of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA), Mano Ganesan, spoke on the Ramayana Trail that mostly attracted the North Indians, especially the Guajaratis (Modi hails from Gujarat) to Sri Lanka.

Addressing the mass gathering at Norwood, Ganesan said it was a rare historic event.

Modi’s visit to the plantation sector comes after former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit several decades ago.

Minister Ganesan mentioned about Anjani Parbat in the Dang District in the State of Gujarat which is considered as the Gujarat Leg of the Rama Trail and linked to the ‘Rama Trail’ – the Sita Vanam that is located a few kilometres from Norwood.

Minister Ganesan spoke as a patriotic Sri Lankan though he represents the People of Indian Origin.

According to the Minister, he had requested for more houses for the plantation workers and Modi agreed to construct 10,000 more houses. Minister Ganesan who spoke on the derailed education system for the plantation schools urged Premier Modi to provide a Tamil medium vocational training college, a teacher training college in the Tamil language for science, mathematics, etc. He also noted the need of reviving the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of India and the Ministry of National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages.

Minister Ganesan also recalled the request that was tabled to India during the Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime to uplift the plantation secondary schools with infrastructure support.

“Modi told me all requests would be favourably considered,” Minister Ganesan said.

Minister Ganesan also noted that most people in Sri Lanka had arrived from different parts of India. The plantation workers who arrived from India in the 1800s had maintained their loyalty to Sri Lanka and this was never divided.

Sri Lankas future with China and India

As Modi’s visit ended on a high note, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe set off to China yesterday (13) to participate at the ‘One Road One Belt’ Summit in Beijing.

With the major influence of Chinese in Sri Lanka since the Rajapaksas came to power, there were several upsetting moments for India. The Chinese have however managed to get what they wanted from Sri Lanka under Maithri-Ranil Government despite protests from the Rajapaksa camp. The anti-Chinese protests from the Rajapaksas have also made Modi happy, perhaps one reason he agreed to meet with the former President.

During his previous visit to the country in 2015, Modi visited the North and followed it up this time with a trip to the hill country where there is a large concentration of Tamils of Indian origin – Places that do not interest the Chinese.

India has played a bigger role politically with Sri Lanka and used fewer yardsticks on trade interests, unlike the Chinese.

Will Modi have to set his foot on Sri Lanka yet again, just like the Buddha did three times to spread his teachings? Yes, he might, looking at the ground scenario.

(Writer can be contacted on )

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