Wrapping up his first neighbourhood visit with a packed day in Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday made a powerful case for cooperation against terrorism, reaffirmed India’s commitment to neighbouring nations and endorsed the fact that Sri Lanka was safe for tourism again.
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 neighbour.
Modi’s first stop was at St Anthony’s Church which had suffered a devastating attack. He paid tributes to victims of the deadly 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 Jamaath.
Sri Lankan PM Ranil Wickremasinghe received Modi at the airport and also saw him off at the end of an engagement-packed visit. 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. After meeting Wickremasinghe, Modi tweeted, “Assured India’s full support to further strengthen bilateral development partnership including through people oriented projects in Sri Lanka.”