President Maithripala Sirisena returned to the island yesterday (February 18) after completing a successful three day State Visit to India. This was the first overseas visit by President Sirisena after assumption of office last month.
Relations between India and Sri Lanka have not just been reinforced during this visit but have also gained new heights, direction and momentum.
This visit saw the signing of four bilateral instruments relating to Civil Nuclear Cooperation, Nalanda University, Cooperation programmes relating to Agriculture and Culture.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated President Sirisena on his momentous electoral victory and commended the important steps taken by him to significantly strengthen democracy, good governance and the rule of law and Sri Lanka’s renewed engagement with the International community.
President Sirisena and Mrs. Jayanthi Sirisena left for India on February 15th on an invitation extended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Upon arrival in India on the 16th (Monday), a special welcome ceremony was accorded to President Sirisena by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhavan which comprised a ceremonial reception, guard of honour and a 21-Gun Salute.
Following the ceremony President Sirisena offered floral tributes at the Mahatma Gandhi Samadi at Rajghat. He then visited the National Museum where he paid homage to the Kapilavastu relics.
Later, President Sirisena and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held bilateral talks at Hyderabad House, where the Prime Minister also hosted a luncheon in honour of President Sirisena.
In his opening remarks at the bilateral discussions, President Sirisena observed that the relationship between Sri Lanka and India spans thousands of years and said “I am extremely pleased to undertake my first overseas visit to Maha Bharatha, India within a very short time since my election as President.” Speaking further he said, that the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism have a very close relationship and has thrived amongst our peoples.
The discussions covered a broad range of areas which straddle the bilateral relationship. The two sides reviewed several initiatives underway including development cooperation, trade, resettlement and housing, connectivity, fisheries, energy, as well as matters of mutual interest in regional and international fora. They agreed to recommence Commerce Secretary level discussions on trade and economic matters, while the Joint Commission headed by the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs will convene at an early date.
President Sirisena shared with the Indian leaders the parameters and the guiding principles which chart the policies of the new Government in Sri Lanka both domestically and internationally. He spoke of the extensive democratic reforms relating to governance and its structures as well as the new development paradigm reflected in the target oriented 100 Day Programme. The President also shared the elements of Sri Lanka’s new foreign policy trajectory of transparency and open engagement and expressed confidence that the warm friendship which the two countries have forged will also help overcome national and international challenges. He reiterated the invitation to Prime Minister Modi and said he looked forward to receiving him in Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Modi, while congratulating President Sirisena on his momentous electoral victory, commended the important steps taken by him to significantly strengthen democracy, good governance and the rule of law and Sri Lanka’s renewed engagement with the International community. The Indian Prime Minister said he was looking forward to his visit to Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Modi, as a gesture of goodwill, announced India’s decision to reduce entrance fees for Sri Lankans visiting the National Museum in New Delhi to pay homage to the Kapilavastu relics.
The following are the bilateral instruments signed during the visit.
• The Agreement between India and Sri Lanka on Cooperation in the Peaceful use of Nuclear Energy will facilitate the development and strengthening of scientific, economic, and technical cooperation in the use and development of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. A Joint Committee established under agreement would identify specific projects in such areas as production and utilization of isotopes in industry, agriculture, water management, health care including nuclear medicine.
• The Memorandum of Understanding between Sri Lanka and India on the Establishment of Nalanda University, encourages networking and collaboration between Nalanda University and existing Centres of Excellence in Sri Lanka enabling to build an Asian community of learning with regional awareness.
• The Work-Plan for 2014-2015 under the existing MoU on Cooperation in the field of Agriculture envisages collaborative programmes in the field of agriculture including post harvest technology, agriculture science and technology, agricultural extension and farmer linkages, horticulture exchange including exchange of germplasm and planting material, training in the field of farm mechanization.
• The Programme of Cultural Cooperation between Sri Lanka and India for the years 2015-18 signed under the existing Cultural Cooperation Agreement of 1977 encourages exchanges of professionals/ artists between India and Sri Lanka, the conduct of cultural, educational programs in the areas of Performing Arts, Visual Art, Exhibitions, Museums, Libraries, Archives and Cultural Documentation, and Archaeology.
President Mukherjee hosted a State Banquet in honour of President Sirisena and Mrs. Jayanthi Sirisena at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Speaking at the occasion, President Mukherjee said Sri Lanka occupies a special place in India’s worldview and observed that the symbiotic relationship between India and Sri Lanka is not based merely on geography, which he said is compelling enough, but is also predicated on shared religions, cultural practices, family ties, linguistic commonalities, economic cooperation, political understanding and much more.
While in New Delhi, the President and Mrs Sirisena paid homage to the sacred Kapilavastu relics at the National Museum. The President unveiled a replica of the Avalokitheshwara bodhisattva statue at the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi.
Several Ministers and political leaders including Smt. Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs of India, Shri Arun Jaitly, Minister of Finance, Shri Manohar Parikkar, Minister of Defence, called on the President. Former Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Indian National Congress Leader Smt. Sonia Gandhi, and Shri Karan Singh also paid a joint call President Sirisena.
Prior to his return to Colombo, the President participated in religious observances at Buddhagaya and Thirupathi.
President Sirisena was accompanied by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Health and Indigenous Minister, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Minister of Power & Energy, Dr. Patali Champika Ranawaka and Mr. D. M. Swaminathan, Minister of Resettlement, Reconstruction & Hindu Religious Affairs, Mr. Austin Fernando Governor of the Eastern Province, Secretary to the President, Secretary/Foreign Affairs and Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi along with other senior officials.