Welcoming Mr. Sirisena, the President appreciated him for choosing India for his first visit abroad as the President of Sri Lanka. The President congratulated Mr. Sirisena on his victory in the elections in Sri Lanka last month and said the support he received from a wide cross section of the people reflects the eagerness of the people of Sri Lanka to strengthen its democratic leadership. The President said in Mr. Sirisenas election victory, there is an opportunity to chart a new direction in the bilateral engagement of India and Sri Lanka. As the largest democracy in the world, India greatly appreciates the strengthening of democracy in its neighbourhood.
The President said relations between India and Sri Lanka are unique and based upon shared historical, cultural, ethnic and civilizational ties as well as extensive people-to-people interaction. This relationship is marked by close contacts at the highest political level, growing trade and investment, infrastructural linkages, cooperation in the fields of development, education, culture and defence as well as a broad understanding on major issues of international interest.
The President said India as a close neighbour has watched developments in Sri Lanka with deep interest. The end of the armed conflict in 2009 was a historic opportunity to find a meaningful and lasting solution to the issues concerning the Sri Lankan Tamil minority.
The President said the trade between India and Sri Lanka is more than US $ 5 billion. Both countries should focus on closer economic integration by building on the Free Trade Agreement and promote cross investments by companies. India is keen to promote greater connectivity between the two countries. The President said the issue of fishermen is an emotive one that concerns the livelihood of fishermen from both the countries. He has no doubt that both the countries can handle the issue with due care and sensitivity. The President assured that Sri Lanka will receive the fullest cooperation from India to unlock the potential of the relationship.
Responding to President Mukherjee, the Sri Lankan President said that his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi were fruitful and has laid the foundation for an expansion in bilateral relations. India is the largest democracy in the world despite its diversity and a model for all others. The two countries have enjoyed good relations for thousands of years and share many things in common, especially cultural links and common values inspired by Buddhism and Hinduism. Nobody can challenge this relationship and the future must be built on the basis of the historical relations.
In his banquet speech, President Pranab Mukherjee said electoral victory of the Sri Lankan President was an unequivocal expression from the Sri Lankan people for change, as well as a clarion call to pursue the path of harmony and genuine reconciliation. The reforms that the Sri Lankan Government has initiated hold the promise of a better tomorrow for Sri Lanka and the region.
The President recalled a couplet from the Tamil classic Thirukkural on friendship which means True friendship is rare and hard to gain; once achieved, it protects against unpredictable woes. The symbiotic relationship between India and Sri Lanka is not based merely on geography, which is compelling enough, but is also predicated on shared religions, cultural practices, family ties, linguistic commonalities, economic cooperation, political understanding, and much more. Not many would know that a Sri Lankan student of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Ananda Samarakoon, composed the Sri Lankan national anthem, Sri Lanka Matha.
The President said in contemporary times, India-Sri Lanka relations have become multi-faceted, encompassing trade and investment, science, education, security and defence, and above all, people-to-people exchanges. In terms of foreign tourist footfalls in Sri Lanka, India ranks number one. The first FTA that India signed with any country was with Sri Lanka. It is time to take the economic engagement to the next level. There has been a resurgence in the Indian economy over the last year, and Sri Lanka is well-placed to take full advantage of this. Both countries should look at steps to enhance connectivity between our two nations.
The President said India is privileged to be a partner in Sri Lanka’s development efforts, focusing on capacity building, human resource development and infrastructure support. The flagship Indian Housing Project in Sri Lanka continues to make excellent progress. The recommencement of the iconic Yal Devi train service, after three decades, between Jaffna and Colombo through the Indian-assisted Northern Railway Rehabilitation project is a matter of particular satisfaction. Sri Lankan investment in India has also seen some remarkable success stories in the garments sector. India and Sri Lanka must build on deep and enduring links of history and culture, and work towards the shared prosperity of the people of the two countries and the region. A vast vista of cooperation beckons India and Sri Lanka.