India, Sri Lanka hold bilateral talks; Modi pledges $15 million grant for Buddhist ties

New Delhi (NVI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi today announced a grant assistance of USD 15 million for the promotion of Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka, during first ever India-Sri Lanka Virtual Bilateral Summit.

The grant will assist in deepening people-to-people linkages between the two countries in the sphere of Buddhism, inter-alia, through constructions/renovations of Buddhist monasteries, capacity development, cultural exchanges, archaeological cooperation, reciprocal exposition of Lord Buddha’s relics, strengthening of Buddhist scholarship, and supporting the clergy.

During the summit, PM Modi said that India will facilitate the visit of a delegation of Buddhist pilgrims from Sri Lanka in the first inaugural flight to Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh.

PM Narendra Modi held wide-ranging talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa, covering the entire spectrum of bilateral ties and with a focus on further expanding cooperation in key areas.

Modi told the Sri Lankan PM that under the country’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, India “gives special priority to relations between the two countries.”

“The relations between India and Sri Lanka are thousands of years old. According to my government’s neighbourhood first policy and SAGAR doctrine, we give special priority to relations between the two countries,” said PM Modi.

Thanking his Sri Lankan counterpart for accepting the invitation for a virtual bilateral summit, PM Narendra Modi congratulated Mahinda Rajapaksa for his election as the prime minister.

Rajapaksa expressed gratitude for India’s work for other countries during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The operation to douse off the fire on MT New Diamond ship provided an opportunity for greater cooperation between the two countries,” Rajapaksa said.

In a statement following the meeting, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, “Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa made a special mention of the Jaffna Cultural Centre, an iconic project built with Indian assistance. The Centre is almost ready and PM Rajapaksa extended an invitation to PM Modi to inaugurate the project.”

Furthermore, both the leaders discussed the economic dimension of the challenges posed by COVID-19. They acknowledged the need for close coordination on issues such as trade and investment including the facilitation of an enabling environment for economic enterprises on both sides and deepening the integration of supply chains for mutual benefit.

This bilateral summit was PM Narendra Modi’s first such virtual engagement with a neighbouring country. This was also PM Rajapaksa’s first diplomatic engagement with a leader of a foreign country after he was elected as the prime minister in August.

The virtual bilateral summit is preceded by the state visits of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and PM Rajapaksa to India in November 2019 and February 2020, respectively.

​The members of the Indian delegation who attended the summit included External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and other officials of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of External Affairs, including the Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Gopal Baglay.

PM Rajapaksa was assisted by Minister of Foreign Affairs Dinesh Gunawardena, Minister of Fisheries Douglas Devananda as well as other Ministers and senior officials.