In the backdrop of protests by hundreds of black-flag waving Tamil activists in Bhopal and Pandhurna, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa spread the message of “tolerance and understanding.”
“I think the message of tolerance and understanding is of great relevance today, as we see the tragic results of enmity and hatred towards other faiths leading to violence and destruction, and great loss to societies,” said Rajapaksa, speaking at a function to mark the laying of the foundation stone of the University of Buddhist and Indic Studies in Sanchi on Friday.
The UNESCO world heritage site had turned into a veritable fortress with Tamil groups led by MDMK chief Vaiko threatening to storm the event as they vehemently opposed the presence of the Sri Lankan president - who they hold solely responsible for the deaths of thousands of Tamils during the last days of the civil war in the island nation. The high-security event passed off peacefully with Vaiko being confined to Pandhurna (Chhindwara) near the MP-Maharashtra border, and several of his supporters barricaded at a guest house in Bhopal.
Rajapaksa and Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Y Thinley, reached Sanchi in on Friday morning along with chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and visited the Stupa first. The foundation stone was laid by the dignitaries at Amkheda, the site of the university which is just three km from the Stupa. Special sanctified bricks were brought from Sri Lanka for the ceremony. Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of BR Ambedkar, Swami Parmatmanand Saraswati and President of Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka Ven Vangal Upatista Nayak Thero also participated in the ceremony.
“It is our hope that the wisdom that will in time come from the work of the university will become a beacon of light for our region as we battle against intolerance and hatred, separatism and ethnic prejudice, terrorism and violence and social inequality and exclusion,” the Lankan president said after laying the foundation stone. Nearly 1.5 lakh Sri Lankans visit Sanchi every year, he added.
Earlier, Prime Minister of Bhutan Jigmi Yoser Thinley, who delivered the initial part of his speech in Hindi to much applause from the audience, said: “I hope the university promotes holistic growth leading from the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH),” he said. A Bhutanese concept, GNH is based on the premise that the purpose of development should be to enhance human well-being and happiness.
Speaking on the occasion, Chouhan said that Bodh Gaya would be added as a destination under the Mukhyamantri Teerth Darshan Yojna. “Buddhist teachings of compassion are the reason for MP government’s policies on protection of the girl child and care for the elderly,” he said. “Representatives of 12 countries are here and there are two heads of government present too,” said the chief minister, underscoring the importance of the event.
A conspicuous absentee at the event was the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, who, as per Chouhan, had to cancel her visit as she was not keeping well.