Narendra Modi announces direct Varanasi-colombo flight from August

Direct Varanasi-Colombo  flight from August: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India’s flag carrier Air India would begin direct flights between Colombo and the holy city of Varanasi from August.

Modi, who is on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka, made the announcement during his address at the inauguration of the International Vesak Day, the biggest festival of Buddhists in Colombo.

He said the flights will allow “my Tamil brothers and sisters” to visit Varanasi, the land of Kashi Viswanath. At a distance of 10 kilometres from Varanasi, lies Sarnath, one of the most revered Buddhist pilgrimage centres. It is believed that after attaining the enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, it was in Sarnath that Lord Buddha preached his first sermon, sanctified as Maha Dharm Chakra Parivartan.

The direct flights will aid pilgrims from Sri Lanka, a Buddhist-majority country, to visit Sarnath.

Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh is the parliamentary constituency of the Prime Minister, from where he contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

Later addressing public rally of Tamils of Indian origin in Dickoya town, Modi said Sinhala and Tamil communities in Sri Lanka should strengthen unity and harmony as he assured India’s full support to the steps taken by Colombo to improve the living conditions of minority Tamils in the country.

“Diversity calls for celebration and not confrontation. Sinhala and Tamil people and languages existed harmoniously,” Modi told the Tamils of Indian origin in Dickoya town in the tea growing Central Province of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is still recovering from the wounds of a nearly three-decade long bloody civil war between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which fought to create an independent Tamil state in the north and the east of the island.

The war caused significant hardships for the Tamils and resulted in deaths of an estimated 80,000-100,000 people.

“We need to strengthen, not separate, (these) threads of unity and harmony,” Modi told thousands of Tamils during the public rally in the presence of Lankan President Maithripala Srisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Modi, who made a helicopter journey to Dickoya, said he was aware that the Sri Lankan Government is taking active steps to improve living conditions of Tamils, including a five-year National Plan of Action.

“The Government and people of India are with you in your journey towards peace and greater prosperity,” Modi said.

He announced that India would provide 10,000 additional houses in the region. India has already provided 4,000 homes.

“We have also decided to extend 1990 Emergency Ambulance Service, currently operating in Western and Southern provinces, to all other provinces,” he said.

The ambulance service was pledged by Modi in his first visit to Sri Lanka in 2015.

Modi recalled Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to central Lanka some 90 years ago to spread the message of socio-economic development and said in commemoration of his historic visit, Mahatma Gandhi International Centre was set up with Indian assistance in Matale in 2015.

Addressing the public rally, Modi said, “You and I have something in common. I have a special association with tea”.

“Ceylon tea is world famous what is lesser known is your sweat and hard work that is behind it,” he told the crowd, adding that people all over the world are familiar with famous Ceylon Tea that originates in this fertile land.

During his address to the Tamil community, Modi praised them saying they speak one of the oldest-surviving languages in the world and it was a matter of pride that “many of you also speak Sinhala.”

He congratulated the Tamil community for their hard work and their contributions to the two countries.

“We remember your forefathers. Men and women of strong will and courage, who undertook the journey of their life from India to then Ceylon,” he said and added that “in more recent times” the Tamil community “gifted” the world legendary cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan and M G Ramachandran, popularly known as MGR only. By taking the names of Muralitharan and MGR, Modi tried to bridge the physical gap that divide the Tamil population in Sri Lanka and India.

MGR, who was born in Sri Lanka’s Kandy, was an Indian actor and politician who served as Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for 10 years between 1977 and 1987. Regarded as a cultural icon and one of the most influential actors, MGR has an unparallel admiration among the Tamil community.

And Muralitharan, a former Sri Lankan cricketer who is rated among the greatest Test match bowler of all time, was also born to a Tamil family in Kandy.

Modi ended his speech quoting celebrated Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar, “Wealth will find its own way to the man of unfailing energy and efforts.”



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