Upcountry set to welcome Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive in Colombo on Thursday to participate in the international UN Vesak Day hosted by Sri Lanka.

During the two-day visit, he will address thousands of upcountry Tamils of the country, shining the spotlight on the 1.6 million-strong community inhabiting the island’s Central and Southern provinces.

On Friday, Mr. Modi will speak at a public meeting in Norwood, in the island’s hill country, which is likely to draw tens of thousands of upcountry Tamils, most of them descendants of Indian-origin labourers brought down by the British.

On his last trip to Sri Lanka in March 2015, the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister in nearly 30 years, Mr. Modi visited the war-battered Northern Province.

This is the first time that an Indian Premier will travel to the Central Province, where the country’s famed tea estates are located, to address Sri Lankans of recent Indian origin.

 ‘Historic visit’

Senior upcountry leaders deemed the Prime Minister’s visit ‘historic”, after Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru’s visits in the pre-Independence era. “India has always expressed concern for our Tamil brothers and sisters from the north and east. This visit is only an extension of that to include Tamils from other parts of the island,” said Mano Ganesan, Minister for National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official languages, and leader of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA).

As “full-fledged Sri Lankans”, who battled statelessness in the past, members of the community have made a mark in different fields, even as a fourth of them continue toiling in tea plantations, braving low wages, poor housing and education, Mr. Ganesan said. “We remain loyal to our motherland, but see India as our fatherland.”

Meeting with parties

Mr. Modi is scheduled to meet leaders of the TPA and those of Ceylon Workers’ Congress, a party that traditionally represented upcountry Tamils, but has more recently lost ground to the TPA. “We are mobilising 20,000 workers for Mr. Modi’s meeting,” CWC President Muthu Sivalingam told The Hindu.

While TPA hopes to revive a 2014 MoU and seek Indian support in housing, education and vocational training, the CWC too wrote to Mr. Modi in April, requesting for assistance in the same areas. India is currently building 4,000 houses for estate workers. Mr. Modi will inaugurate a hospital in the area built with Indian assistance.

Mr. Modi will inaugurate the UN Vesak Day celebrations in the city on Friday. Soon after, he will proceed to the island’s Central Province by a helicopter, specially brought down from India.

Following his engagement in Norwood, he will visit the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, ahead of his departure to New Delhi. While Mr. Modi will meet top Sri Lankan leaders, no bilateral agreements will be signed during his visit. Sri Lanka police have deployed 6,000 personnel for enhanced security. For the first time, Sri Lanka is hosting an international conference and celebrations around UN Vesak Day. Nearly 750 people from 85 countries will participate in the event. (The Hindu)

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