India seeks to connect with Sinhala Buddhist nationalism in Lanka, announces $15 million grant
India on Saturday moved to connect with the Sinhala Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka, even as it nudged the island nation to implement the 13th Amendment of its constitution to ensure devolution of power to the local governments in its Northern and Eastern provinces inhabited by minority Tamils.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed to his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa during a virtual summit that New Delhi would provide a grant assistance of $15 million to develop Buddhist ties between India and the Indian Ocean nation.
Though Modi stressed on implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution for meeting the aspirations of the minority Tamils, Mahinda remained non-committal and said that reconciliation would be guided by mandate of the people of his country.
The grant will assist in deepening people-to-people linkages between the two countries in the sphere of Buddhism, including through construction and renovation of monasteries, capacity development, cultural exchanges, archaeological cooperation, reciprocal exposition of Lord Buddha's relics and strengthening engagement of scholars and clergy, according to a joint statement issued after the summit.
New Delhi's move is apparently aimed at connecting with the Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, which has regained momentum after the April 21, 2019 terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka. It helped Rajapaksa Clan to return to the helm of the government in Colombo. Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the presidential elections in November 2019 and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa led the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections last August.
Modi, however, also called on Mahinda to address the aspirations of Sri Lanka's minority Tamils for equality, justice, peace and respect, including by carrying forward the process of reconciliation with the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the constitution of the island nation. Mahinda said that Sri Lanka would work towards realizing the expectations of all ethnic groups, including Tamils, by achieving reconciliation nurtured as per the mandate of the people of Sri Lanka and implementation of the constitutional provisions.
New Delhi's nudge to Colombo for implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan constitution came amid speculation that the Rajapaksa Clan might make a move to scrap it or dilute it taking advantage of the ruling SLPP's majority in Parliament.
Mahinda, whom his brother appointed as Prime Minister in November 2019 itself, commenced his new term in the top office on August 9 last.
Modi had in March 2015 visited Sri Lanka's ancient capital Anuradhapura and offered prayers at the sacred Jaya Sri Mahabodhi Tree during his maiden visit to the southern neighbour after taking over as Prime Minister of India. He had also visited Sri Lanka in May 2017 to take part in the 14th International Vesak Day celebration - marking the birth, enlightenment and death anniversary of Lord Buddha.
Sri Lanka is one of the Indian Ocean nations where China is trying to outsmart India to spread its geo-strategic influence. The tiny island nation had to lease out the Hambantota Port to China for 99 years after its construction by a company based in the communist country resulted in a huge debt burden for it.
The second of Mahinda Rajapaksa's two consecutive terms (2005-2015) in the office of Sri Lankan President had seen China expanding its footprints in the Indian Ocean island nation, causing much unease to India. He had ignored the security interests of India and allowed China to develop strategic assets, like Hambantota Port, in the island. He had also allowed two nuclear submarines of the People Liberation Army Navy of China to dock at the Colombo Port, raising hackles in New Delhi.
Soon after the SLPP's victory in parliamentary elections, Rajapaksa Government constituted a committee comprising five senior officials to review the agreement Sri Lanka inked with India and Japan in May 2019 for development of the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port.
Modi and Mahinda however on Saturday agreed to work towards early realization of infrastructure and connectivity projects including in the sectors of Ports and Energy through close consultations as per the bilateral agreements and MoUs, and strong commitment towards a mutually beneficial development cooperation partnership between the two countries, according to the joint statement.