Peace, unity and reconciliation are crucial for the development of the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the historic Jaffna Public Library here on Saturday.
The first Indian Prime Minister to visit the war-torn Northern Province of the island nation, Mr. Modi said India and Sri Lanka were not merely neighbours, but shared strong historic and cultural links. “While roads, airports and ports link people, a library links generations of people and their histories,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets people after flagging off train service at Talaimannar in Sri Lanka on Saturday.
Referring to the 1981 torching of the library by a mob, reportedly Sinhalese, he said at least one lakh titles were burnt. The restored structure symbolised the confluence of the old and the new, Mr. Modi said.
Laying the foundation stone for the Jaffna Cultural Centre, coming up with Indian assistance in the adjoining compound, the Prime Minister pledged India’s commitment to completing the structure soon, and said he wished to come back for the inaugural programme at what would be a “world-class” cultural centre.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena after visiting Sri Maha Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka on Saturday.
Later, handing over houses completed under an Indian programme for constructing 50,000 houses for the war displaced, Mr. Modi told a sizeable gathering at Ilavalai, near Keerimalai, in Jaffna that while India could build thousands of homes, it was the aspirations of children that would build their society. “I asked a child here what her ambition was. She said she wants to become a teacher. It is children like her who will transform your society,” Mr. Modi said.
The Prime Minister, attired in a crisp white kurta, began his speech at the different venues with vanakkam (a greeting in Tamil) and switched to Hindi.
Dire need for jobs Krishnan Krupa, a resident, said the house she was granted marked a new beginning for her family. “My family was displaced in 1990 and we returned to our village here only in 2013. We have put in our labour to build this home with Indian funding. I want my children to live happily,” she said tears welling.
While the end of the war came as a major relief, people are still struggling to build their lives again, said her neighbour V. Mohanathan. “The housing scheme has been a very useful intervention by the Indian government. However, there is a dire need for jobs in this region,” he said.
Describing the laying of the foundation stone for the cultural centre, handing over of houses and the launch of train services as his “Triveni Yatra” in the north, Mr. Modi said he was delighted to be the first Indian Prime Minister to set foot in Jaffna.
Mr. Modi earlier flagged off the last leg of the train service to Talaimannar, the closest point to India, restored by IRCON with an Indian line of credit. He visited the ancient city of Anuradhapura in the North Central Province to offer prayers at the site of the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, with President Maithripala Sirisena accompanying him.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers prayers at a temple in Jaffna, Sri Lanka on Saturday. Photos: PTI