Be patient with Sri Lankan govt.: Modi to Tamil leaders

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked Sri Lanka’s Tamils to be patient with the new government in Colombo, The Hindu learns from sources.

He met senior leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) — the main party representing the island’s northern Tamils — in Colombo on Friday.

Pointing to the “beginning of change” in the country following the victory of President Maithripala Sirisena in the January elections, Mr. Modi reportedly said the TNA should “help that change take place,” and not derail the process.

narendra-modi-in-jaffna_650x400_51426324679Mr. Modi urged the TNA to ensure that the party spoke in one voice, asking its “think tank” to come up with a different strategy to engage with the newly-formed government, TNA sources said.

Speaking to The Hindu, TNA spokesperson Suresh Premachandran said: “We brought up the issue of private land in Army control and the release of political prisoners. Mr. Modi told us that he had raised the issues with President Sirisena, and that he had assured to do the needful.”

“Excellent speech”

Commenting on the Indian Prime Minister’s speech in Parliament earlier on Friday, TNA parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran said Mr. Modi made a an “excellent speech” with a strong case for greater devolution in a manner that was not “overbearing”.

“I am firm believer in cooperative federalism,” Mr. Modi said in his address.

Mr. Modi’s meeting with the TNA delegation — the second since their last meeting in August 2014 in New Delhi — was held on the eve of the PM’s visit to the island’s Tamil-majority Northern Province.

Jaffna visit

Mr. Modi, on Saturday, will become the first Indian Prime Minister and the third Indian leader to visit Jaffna, after Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Gandhi — who was in Sri Lanka in 1927 to raise funds for India’s poor — arrived in Jaffna on November 26, according to Sri Lankan historian Santasilan Kadirgamar’s book on the ‘The Jaffna Youth Congress’. He was greeted by a huge crowd at the Jaffna station, whose restoration was recently completed after it was destroyed during the war. Gandhi had taken the train from Colombo and returned to India by sea from Talaimannar – an option the two governments are considering reviving. Nehru was in Jaffna in 1931 along with Indira Gandhi — a teenager then — and was received by the Jaffna Youth Congress.

‘India Corner’

On Saturday, after offering prayers at the ancient city of Anuradhapura in the North Central Province Mr. Modi will go to Talaimannar — the closest point to India — to flag off the last leg of railway services in the Northern Province, restored by IRCON.

He will then proceed to Jaffna, to inaugurate an ‘India Corner’ in the Jaffna Public library, and lay the foundation stone for the Jaffna Cultural Centre being built with Indian assistance. The ‘India Corner’ seeks to be a space where material on India and the links between the two countries will be archived and preserved, sources said.

Mr. Modi will also meet beneficiaries of the Indian housing scheme — India is funding a project to build 50,000 homes for families displaced by the war — in Ilavalai, about 15 km from Jaffna town.