PM Modi visits war-hit Jaffna, assures Sri Lankan Tamils of support
Making a historic visit to a region once ravaged by strife, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday called for equitable development and respect for all citizens in Sri Lanka, seen as an oblique reference to Tamils who had suffered during the war between the LTTE and forces.Updated: Mar 15, 2015 00:29 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka on Saturday of India’s support in their fight for equal political rights during a highly symbolic first visit by an Indian premier to the island nation’s war-scarred Tamil heartland since the end of the civil war.
The visit to the former war zone wrapped up his tour of the island nation, and he was expected back in New Delhi late Saturday-early Sunday. Modi’s trip to Jaffna came a day after he nudged Colombo to give greater autonomy to the Tamil community through early implementation of the 13th Amendment on devolution of powers to Tamils that was introduced by an India-Sri Lanka pact in 1987 under former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
To this, Northern Province chief minister and Tamil leader CV Wigneswaran asked that India be the guarantor for the political rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
“Unity, peace and amity are essential ingredients for equitable development where there is respect for all citizens,” Modi said at the auditorium of the historic Jaffna public library after unveiling a plaque for a cultural centre built with Indian help.
“Jaffna is making a new mark for itself, spreading the message of peace to the world. India is proud to have an opportunity to establish a unique and world-level cultural centre in Jaffna,” he added in the speech that began and ended with the Tamil greeting ‘Vanakkam’.
After reaching out to Tamil minorities, Modi also met former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa against the backdrop of Rajapaksa publicly accusing India’s external intelligence arm, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), of orchestrating his defeat and bringing together the opposition.
This, an official told HT, was because India wanted to remain engaged with actors “across the Sri Lankan political spectrum”. The fact that parliamentary elections are due, and Rajapaksa may still make a comeback, has also been a factor in New Delhi’s decision to speak to him despite his public criticism.
Modi headed home after the meeting with Rajapaksa.
He is the second world leader to visit Jaffna after British Prime Minister David Cameron, who visited the Tamil-dominated area in 2013 after the end of the 25-year civil war in 2009 when government forces defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were fighting to create a separate state for Tamils in the country’s north and east.Making a strong pitch for replacing the 13th Amendment with a more dynamic system of devolution of powers, Wigneswaran told Modi, "The 13th amendment (to the Sri Lankan Constitution) cannot be a final solution. Prime Minister, you are a strong advocate and proponent of devolution of powers and cooperative federalism."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the ceremony for war victims in Llavalai, northwest of Jaffna. (AP Photo)
Later, the PM handed over 27,000 houses built with Indian assistance to Tamils displaced by the civil war as part of New Delhi’s efforts to help in the reconciliation process.
“I am glad this programme is my final public programme during my Sri Lanka visit, and is one to wipe away tears from the eyes of those who suffered,” he said. “These houses are not merely walls of bricks and stone. These houses are an effort to make the lives of those who have suffered happier.”
Modi also offered prayers at Keerimalai Naguleswaram temple, a famous Hindu temple north of Jaffna, as he concluded a packed four-hour visit to the former war zone. “Feeling blessed,” he tweeted later.
First Published: Mar 14, 2015 18:54 IST