SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA, SMT. PRATIBHA DEVISINGH PATIL AT THE BANQUET IN HONOUR OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF SRI LANKA, H.E. MR. MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA
New Delhi, 9th June 2010
Your Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Madam Shiranthi Rajapaksa
Distinguished Guests from Sri Lanka
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is, indeed, a great pleasure to welcome Your Excellency President Rajapaksa and Madam Shiranthi Rajapaksa to India. Excellency, allow me, at the outset, to felicitate you on your resounding electoral victory. The people of Sri Lanka have renewed their faith in your leadership. The successful conclusion of the elections and the participation of all communities in this process from all provinces augur well for the future of Sri Lanka.
Excellency, your visit comes at a time when there is promise of a new era of peace and progress in Sri Lanka. Terrorism and secessionist forces have been resolutely defeated. Rehabilitation and reconciliation are the need of the hour. Your Government has undertaken the immediate and challenging task of resettling the nearly 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who emerged out of the conflict zone traumatized by the violence. I am confident that in the coming days, the remaining IDPs will also return to their places of residence to resume their life in peace and security. The restoration of their livelihood, rekindling of their entrepreneurial spirit and resumption of cultural and developmental activities combined with strong financial and moral support will help them resume productive lives again.
Your Excellency's electoral victory holds out hope that an era of reconciliation will begin, where all communities would come together and forge a permanent settlement addressing all outstanding issues in a spirit of mutual accommodation. A genuine political settlement is the path to cohesion and mutual coexistence.
India stands ready to contribute, in any way it can, to assist Sri Lanka in its return to normalcy. The visit to Sri Lanka of a group of Members of Parliament from Tamil Nadu last October served to underline this commitment. Our initial focus was on humanitarian assistance which included supply of family packs, medicines, artificial limbs and a field hospital and on the resettlement of IDPs. Apart from the assistance of Rs. 500 crores for the rehabilitation in the north, we are extending about US$ 800 million as Lines of Credit for railway projects. We are willing to contribute to the reconstruction process through support for reviving agriculture, for rebuilding schools, housing and civil infrastructure, for rehabilitating war widows, constructing the Cultural Centre in Jaffna, setting up Vocational Training Centres and restoring the Duriappa Stadium.
India and Sri Lanka relations are civilisational and inextricably linked by history, language, religion, trade and, more recently, by our struggle against colonialism and commitment to democracy and pluralism. In fact, it is this blend of the ancient and the modern that has made India and Sri Lanka relations unique in the modern world. With the cessation of hostilities in northern Sri Lanka, India and Sri Lanka have an opportunity to realize the full potential of their bilateral relations. I am heartened to note that, during this visit, we are committing ourselves to substantially enhance the range and depth of our bilateral engagement.
Enhanced economic interaction and greater connectivity hold the key to leverage our mutual strengths for the benefit of our peoples and, indeed, the entire region. Gains of the India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement should be consolidated. Trade and investments need to be encouraged further. Several Sri Lankan private sector companies have invested profitably in India. Our traditional development partnership thrives and several projects have been taken up all over Sri Lanka.
I am pleased that we have decided to resume the ferry services between Rameshwaram and Thalaimannar and between Colombo and Tuticorin ports - links that had remained disrupted for years. Power-grid interconnectivity is another linkage being explored. More than 100 flights a week ply between the two countries and the largest number of tourists in Sri Lanka are from India. To bring India closer to the people and promote people-to-people contacts, we are opening Consulates in Jaffna and Hambantota.
Both our countries should come together to leverage our strengths in the world of knowledge and enhance our cooperation in the education sector. Our scholarship outreach in Sri Lanka is being expanded and our capacity building in the education sector, especially among the Indian Origin Tamils, will continue. Recognising our shared civilisational bonds, both countries will commemorate the 2600th year of the attainment of Enlightenment of Lord Buddha through joint activities in Sri Lanka.
India and Sri Lanka can show the way forward to the region and to the world as a model of mutually beneficial cooperation. We can find new synergies and new areas of cooperation. It is through enhanced engagement that we can realize the full potential of our relations.
Distinguished Guests, may I request you to join me in a toast :-
- to the good health and personal well being of His Excellency President Rajapaksa and Madam Shiranthi Rajapaksa;
- to the progress and prosperity of the people of Sri Lanka; and
- to the ever-growing cooperation and friendship between the two countries.