COLOMBO: Feelings in Sri Lanka after the two-day visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are mixed, both among the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority.
To look at the brighter side first, Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena described the visit as a “blessing” and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe lauded Modi’s speech in parliament as a clarion call to take Lanka-India relations to new heights. Both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe broke protocol in interacting with Modi. While the President journeyed to Anuradhapura to play host to Modi at the Mahabodhi tree, the Lankan Prime Minister received Modi and saw him off at the airport, when this task should normally be done by the Minister-in-Waiting, Lakshman Kiriella.
When Modi was in Jaffna, the Tamils who had gathered to hear him, took to him spontaneously, cheering him lustily whenever he offered to help them face the ravages of the 30 year war and assured them that India will never let them down. Some beneficiaries of the Indian housing scheme shed tears of joy.
Northern Province Chief Minister C.V.Wigneswaran said that he was “blessed” to give the welcome address and praised Modi for advocating “cooperative federalism” as a model for Sri Lanka.
“Modi has implanted the idea of cooperative federalism and devolution in the minds of Lankan leaders,” the CM said.
The Sunday Island described Modi’s visit as a “resounding success.” The Tamil daily Thinakkural said that Tamil leaders should heed his advice to workout new strategies to deal with the new and friendlier Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime.
On the downside, Sunday Times criticized Modi’s promotion of the system of devolution contained in the 13 constitutional Amendment (13A) and his appeal to go beyond it. The paper said that the Provincial Councils set up under 13A are a drain on the exchequer. It also criticized Modi’s refusal to take action to stop poaching by Indian fishermen. The Tamil daily Uthayan said that Modi’s words were empty as he had nothing concrete to offer to the Tamils on devolution.
“When I asked Modi if India would help ensure greater devolution, he only said that he could not believe I was 75 !” joked Wigneswaran, the Northern Province CM.