By Shabab Khan,
New Delhi: India will continue to be a “friend” of Sri Lanka and will help in the nation-building of the island country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Colombo on Friday.
Taking part in the 14th International Vesak Day celebrations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announced a direct flight between Colombo and Varanasi. PM Modi is an elected MP from Varanasi, which is about 250km from the Buddhist pilgrimage centre of Bodhgaya.
“From August 2017, Air India will operate direct flights between Colombo and Varanasi. This will ease travel of brothers and sisters from Sri Lanka to visit Varanasi, the land of Kashi Vishwanath,” Narendra Modi announced.
PM Modi said Sri Lanka takes pride in being among the most important nerve centres of Buddhist teachings and learning, and the Vesak Day celebrations “is an occasion for us to celebrate the unbroken shared heritage of Buddhism”.
“Buddhism and its various strands are deep seated in our governance, culture and philosophy. Our region is blessed to have given to the world the invaluable gift of Buddha and his teachings,” Modi said.
Stating that India and Sri Lanka’s “friendship is etched in time by the great masters”, Modi said, “Our relationship is spread across many layers”.
“I believe we are at a moment of great opportunity in our ties with Sri Lanka. You will find in India a friend and partner that will support your nation-building endeavours.”
“Ours is a friendship that lies in the hearts of people and the fabric of the society,” he said.
Modi said the two countries will strengthen ties in trade and economy.
“In trade and investment, we are already significant partners. We believe that trade across borders will be to our mutual benefit. India’s rapid growth will bring dividend to the entire region, especially Sri Lanka,” he said.
The Prime Minister said that the two countries will cooperate in transport, energy, agriculture, education, health, power, culture, water, shelter, sports and human resources.
Stating that the bilateral trade was now equal to $2.6 billion, Modi said that he met Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena, who, he said “reinforced our interest in common goals”.
Modi thanked the people of Sri Lanka for inviting him for the Vesak Day celebrations, saying “Lord Buddha’s message is still relevant in the 21st century as it was two and a half millennia ago”.