Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Colombo on Thursday on a two-day visit to participate in the U.N. Vesak Day celebrations, amid elaborate security arrangements.
While New Delhi and Colombo have termed the visit primarily a “religious” engagement, emphasising no agreements will be signed, Mr. Modi on his official Facebook page said: “This will be my second bilateral visit there in two years, a sign of our strong relationship.”
Mr. Modi’s first visit in March 2015 highlighted renewed ties between the neighbours following what many called Sri Lanka’s watershed election that saw the defeat of strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, an ally of China.
Mr. Modi on Thursday took part in a traditional lamp lighting ceremony in the well-known Gangaramaya temple in Colombo, and attended a dinner reception hosted by President Maithripala Sirisena.
Mr. Modi will on Friday inaugurate an international conference and celebration around U.N. Vesak Day or Buddha Poornima. His participation in the event is in keeping with the importance he has placed on Buddhism as “a bridge across national borders, faith systems, across political ideologies,” signalling an apparent shift in diplomatic outreach, using religious and cultural ties.
To address Tamils
On Friday, Mr. Modi will travel to Sri Lanka’s scenic hill country, to inaugurate a hospital facility built with Indian aid amounting to ₹50 crore. He will also address a huge gathering of upcountry Tamils.
Hundreds of banners and posters welcoming Mr. Modi popped up along the winding roads around the tea estates in the island’s Central Province, and scores of police personnel were seen near both venues that Mr. Modi is scheduled to visit.
His visit to the hospital will mark its formal inauguration, though the facility has been partly functional since 2015. Once fully operational, it would make a big difference to the community, Medical Superintendent Thilina Wijeytunga told The Hindu , amid preparations for Friday’s event.
“Earlier, expectant mothers from this area would have to travel 40 km for a C-section emergency. That could take up to two hours in these hilly areas,” he said, adding that upcountry Tamils had the poorest health indicators in the island. “Now the situation is improving slowly with better primary and secondary care.”