India strongly believes that its economic growth must bring benefits to its neighbours, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said today as a stadium in Jaffna renovated by India was jointly inaugurated by him along with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.
While thanking India for its assistance, Sirisena said Lanka was committed to strengthening bilateral relations even though there may be wrong understandings and interpretations at times.
Modi, along with Sirisena, inaugurated the Duraiappah Stadium, named in honour of a former Mayor of Jaffna late Alfred Thambirajah Duraiappah.
The stadium, in disuse since 1997, has been renovated by the Indian government at a cost of over Rs 7 crore.
Describing it as a "landmark day", Modi assured Sri Lanka that India will "walk side by side" with the country as it charts its own path to progress and prosperity for all its citizens.
"India desires to see an economically prosperous Sri Lanka. A Sri Lanka where unity and integrity, peace, harmony security and equal opportunity and dignity prevails throughout the country among all its peoples," Modi said on the occasion, speaking via video-conferencing from New Delhi.
"Our relations are not limited to the confines of our two governments, they reside in the rich context of our history, culture, language, art and geography. India strongly believes that its economic growth must drive and bring benefit to its neighbours," he said
Modi said the modern tools of communication have enabled 1.25 billion people of India and the friendly people of Sri Lanka to "join in this celebration".
"After a wait of nearly 20 years your applause and cheers will once again rekindle the soul of Duraiappah stadium. Even while we are sitting thousands of kilometres away in Delhi, we can feel the pulse of vibrancy, an atmosphere of change in
Jaffna," Modi said.
The renovated stadium, with a seating capacity of 1,850, will provide the necessary infrastructure to promote sports and recreational activities and assist the overall development of the youth of the war-ravaged Northern Province.
"The Duraiappah Stadium is not just brick and mortar. It is a symbol of optimism and economic development. An arena of prosperous and healthy future of Jaffna's youth. It demonstrates your determination to shed the legacy of violence and pursue the path of economic progress," the prime minister said.
President Sirisena thanked the Indian government for its assistance and support for Sri Lanka's development.
"I consider the stadium as a centre for reconciliation because in a stadium you do not feel creed, race, religion or any differences. Sports and playground are the symbol of reconciliation. It is the centre of reconciliation," Sirisena said.
Sirisena's remarks assume significance as he has taken many steps to reconcile with the Tamil minority after coming to power.
Several confidence-building-measures such as the release of Tamils-owned lands, lifting of travel restrictions to the North and de-escalating the military presence have been taken since January as part of efforts to ensure reconciliation after three decades of civil war with the LTTE that claimed more than 100,000 lives.
Modi said that successful completion of the stadium is "a signal" that Sri Lanka has "left the past behind" and is "looking to the promise of a prosperous future".
"Durraiappah Stadium embodies the spirit of our cooperation. Indeed, India's support for Sri Lanka's development is a promise of our friendship. And, that it will be based on your priorities and your needs is an assurance that you can rely on. This is what makes our enduring ties relevant to our present, as also to our future," he said.
Modi and Sirisena also witnessed the first major event at the renovated stadium -- a celebration of the second International Day of Yoga -- as thousands of students performed 'Surya Namaskar' with President Sirisena, Northern Province Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran and other top Sri Lankan ministers and officials present at the stadium.
Noting that the world would be celebrating the second anniversary of the International day of Yoga on June 21, Modi said Sri Lanka was among the "first supporters of the UN resolution on this subject in 2014".
"And, today, we have celebrated the start of the International day of Yoga with a curtain raiser from Jaffna, from this Durraiappah Stadium," he added.
Modi also said the 'Surya Namaskar', performed during the celebrations, has sent the message of holistic healthcare, harmonious and sustainable living with nature to the world.
"We could not have asked for a more fitting start and tribute to the International Day of Yoga," he said, adding that the Durraiappah Stadium will stand "as yet another symbol of our lasting friendship".
Recalling his visit to Jaffna in March last year, Modi said it was a "historic day" as it was the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Jaffna.
Lauding the Sri Lankan leadership, Modi said, "I also salute your (Sirisena's) visionary leadership and of Prime Minister (Ranil) Wickremesinghe the Governor and the Chief Minister of the Northern Province in ensuring the success of this project.
Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi watches the inauguration of the renovated stadium in Jaffna via video conferencing. Photograph: PIB