Leaders of the Buddhist community have thrown in their lot with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa whose proposed visit to Sanchi on September 21 is being opposed by Tamil political parties. Buddhists groups based in Madhya Pradesh have said that they not only support Rajapaksa’s visit but would also oppose those planning to come to Sanchi to protest the Sri Lankan president’s presence.
Rajapaksa is slated to inaugurate a Buddhist study centre being set up by the government of Madhya Pradesh at Sanchi. Last week, MDMK leader Vaiko had told HT that he, along with his supporters, will leave from Chennai on September 17 for Sanchi to hold a black flag protest against Rajapaksa’s visit to the world heritage site.
National general secretary of the Republican Party of India (RPI) and state convener of the Buddhist Society of India, Dr Mohanlal Patil told HT on Monday that opposition to the Sri Lankan regime is common in Tamil Nadu. “Whatever happened in Sri Lanka is part of an operation to crush a terror movement. This is the only way a terror movement is dealt with. Opposition to Sri Lanka is common in Tamil Nadu. They sing a different tune, compared to the rest of the country and are opposed to Hindi too,” he said. “If Vaiko is opposed to Rajapaksa’s visit, he should protest at the Sri Lankan High Commission in Delhi, and not at Sanchi,” Patil added.
Buddhists in MP constitute an important part of the dalit vote. As per estimates, the Buddhist population in the state is about 16-17 lakhs, with about 60,000-70,000 adherents of the faith living in Bhopal alone. “Conversion to Buddhism happened in two phases -- one was along with Babasaheb Ambedkar in districts bordering Maharashtra like Chhindwara, Seoni, Betul, Khargone, Khandwa and Burhanpur. In the second phase, members of the Jatav community converted to Buddhism in Gwalior, Datia and Bhind. Some members of the kurmi community had converted to Buddhism in Rewa and Satna too,” said Dr Patil.
Facing assembly elections in 2013, neither the ruling BJP nor the opposition Congress in the state can afford to ignore these numbers. So while, the BJP is quietly going ahead with the arrangements to host the event on September 21, the State Congress spokesperson Manak Agarwal told HT that while the local Congress unit in Chennai might have opposed Rajapaksa’s visit, but the party as a whole welcomes the Lankan president. “He is an elected president of a country and we welcome him,” said Agarwal.