COLOMBO: On the second and final day of his visit to Sri Lanka, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi bonded with the Tamils of the Northern Province with aplomb.
The speeches which he made were extempore and in Hindi, but the Tamil audiences were not complaining as his words, delivered with panache, had a ring of sincerity.
The audience went into raptures when Modi began his speech with a full throated “Vanakkam” (greetings) in Tamil. They clapped lustily as he unreservedly acknowledged the sufferings the Tamils had gone through during the 30 year war, and assured them that India is committed to alleviating their sufferings and will never let them down.
He praised the Tamils for their resilience and faith in a bright and meaningful future. At a ceremony to hand over some houses constructed under the new Indian-funded Owner-Driven System at Elavaalai 16 km from Jaffna town, Modi said that he asked a young girl beneficiary what she wants to be in life.
“The girl said she wants to be teacher. I was impressed with the wisdom that lay behind the answer. I thought to myself, while we are building houses of brick and mortar, this little girl is dreaming of doing much more, to give education to lakhs of children and help them build their lives,” Modi remarked.
Wanting to make eye contact with the vast concourse, Modi asked TV cameraman and others blocking his view to come forward across the security barriers. Thrilled with this impromptu suggestion, the audience burst into a spontaneous applause.
In his speech, Modi said that it was a “heart wrenching” experience for him when he heard of the sufferings undergone by the Tamils of the North during the war.
“ You had lost loved ones. For a roof over your head, you had only the open sky. But I am now happy to see that India has brought relief to you through this housing programme,” he said.
Modi said that under the scheme in which 27,000 houses have been constructed, there are at least 50,000 children. “With a roof over their head, these children can now build their lives and help develop Sri Lanka,” he said.
Claiming credit for the Owner-Driven System under which 45,000 houses are to be built in the North and the East, he said: “It was in Gujarat that this system was first tried out successfully after the 2001 earthquake. When the Tsunami struck Sri Lanka in 2004, a Lankan team came to study the Owner Driven Housing Scheme in Gujarat and was impressed with it and sought to adopt it.”
Bursting into Tears
The Tamil beneficiaries responded to the Indian Prime Minister emotionally. Krishnakripa, a farm labourer’s wife and mother of three young children who was displaced from 1990 to 2013, burst into tears when asked what she felt when she took the ownership certificate from the hands of the Indian Prime Minister.
“Never did I dream that I will get this from the Prime Minister himself,” she said, wiping her eyes.
Enthused by the Indian help, another farm labour, V.Mohanathan, said that he would like India to give the Tamils livelihoods which lay shattered as a result of the war.
At the ceremony to lay the foundation stone of the India-funded Jaffna Cultural Centre, Modi said that Peace, Unity and Goodwill are essential for a country’s development, and recalled that he told the Lankan parliament that “cooperative federalism” is necessary for the all round development of a country.
Alluding to the burning of the Jaffna Public Library in the 1980s, Modi said that it had cut the links of the present with the past. “Road, harbors and airports do link people, but books link them with their history,” he remarked.
Describing the architecture of the cultural centre, Modi said that it combines the best of the modern and the cultural heritage of Jaffna.
“I assure you the construction will be finished on time. And I want to be invited to be the chief guest at the very first program held at the centre,” Modi said as the audience clapped.
Earlier, the PM inaugurated the India-built rail link with the Talaimannar Pier, facing Rameswaram on the Indian side, and worshiped at the ancient stupa and the Mahabodhi tree at Anuradhapura. At the stupa, he presented a casket containing sacred soil from Bodh Gaya. He also worshiped at the Nakuleswaran kovil in Elavaalai.
Modi described his round of visits on the last day of his Lankan sojourn as a sacred “Triveni Sangam”, the sacred elements being the three projects bringing succor to the long suffering people of Jaffna.