Jaffna: 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.
Winding up his public engagements on his two-day trip to the island with a hugely-symbolic visit to Tamil-dominated Jaffna, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, he said he was glad that it “is one to wipe tears from the eyes of those who suffered”.
The Prime Minister, who is also the second international leader to visit the region after Premier David Cameron in 2013, handed over 27,000 new homes to Tamils who became homeless during the civil war.
The houses were built with Indian assistance as part of India’s efforts to help in the reconciliation process. Modi’s visit came a day after he had met President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo and favoured a life of equality, justice, peace and dignity in a unified Sri Lanka.
He had also urged the Sri Lankan government to ensure early and full implementation of the 13th Amendment relating to devolution of powers to Tamils and to go beyond that in finding a political solution. Laying the foundation on Saturday for a Cultural Centre being built in Jaffna by India, Modi said, “Sri Lanka should also progress. Unity, peace and amity are essential ingredients for equitable development where there is respect for all citizens.”
Northern Province Chief Minister and Tamil leader CV Wigneswaran, who was present at the event, made a strong pitch for replacing the 13th Amendment with a more dynamic system of devolution of powers.
“13th amendment (to Sri Lankan Constitution) cannot be a final solution,” he said, noting that Modi himself is a proponent of devolution of powers and cooperative federalism.
Earlier, Modi flagged off a train service in the north-western town of Talaimannar — the closest point to India — restored after decades of civil war, completing the reconstruction of the entire Northern Province Railway Line.
At Ilavalai in Jaffna, where India is assisting in a housing project, Modi participated in a housewarming ceremony and lent a helping hand in the traditional milk boiling before a family moved into a new home.
He was received by women who performed the traditional ‘aarti’ to the accompaniment of Nadaswaram music. Modi also offered prayers at the Naguleswaram Temple in Jaffna. “Feeling blessed,” he tweeted later.