Honourable Speaker of Parliament, Mr. Chamal Rajapaksa ji,
Honourable Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Shrimaan Ranil Wickremesinghe ji,
Honourable Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Nimal Siripala De Silva,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
I am truly delighted to visit Sri Lanka - a land of beauty, culture and friendship.
I am deeply honoured to be in this Parliament. I am conscious of its rich history.
This Parliament represents one of Asia`s oldest democracies; and, one of its most vibrant.
Long before many others in the world, Sri Lanka gave every individual a vote and voice.
To the people of Sri Lanka, ayubuvan, Vanakkam.
I bring the greetings of 1.25 billion friends; and millions of fans of Sri Lankan cricket.
I bring the blessings from the land of Bodh Gaya to the land of Anuradhapura.
I stand here in respect for our shared heritage; and, in commitment to our shared future.
Last May, when I took the oath of office, I was honoured by the presence of South Asian leaders at the ceremony.
Their presence was a celebration of democracy`s march in our region. It was also recognition of our common destiny.
I am convinced that the future of any country is influenced by the state of its neighbourhood.
The future that I dream for India is also the future that I wish for our neighbours.
We in this region are on the same journey: to transform the lives of our people.
Our path will be easier, the journey quicker and destination nearer when we walk step in step.
As I stand here in Colombo and look north towards the Himalaya, I marvel at our region`s uniqueness – of our rich diversity and our common civilisational links.
We have been formed from the same elements; and, from our interconnected histories.
Today, we stand together as proud independent nations – sovereign and equal.
India and Sri Lanka do not have a land boundary, but we are the closest neighbours in every sense.
No matter where you look in India or Sri Lanka, the many strands of our links - religion, language, culture, food, customs, traditions and epics - come together into a deep and strong bond of familiarity and friendship.
Ours is a relationship that is beautifully defined by the journey of Mahindra and Sanghamitra. They carried the message of peace, tolerance and friendship more than two millenniums ago.
It is evoked by Kannagi, the central character of the great Tamil epic Silapathikaram, who is worshipped as goddess the Pattini in Sri Lanka.
It lives in the Ramayan trail in Sri Lanka.
It expresses itself in devotion at the dargah of the Nagore Andavar and the Christian shrine of Velankanni.
It is reflected in the friendship of Swami Vivekananda and Anagarika Dharmapala, the founder of the Maha Bodhi Society in Sri Lanka and India.
It lives in the work of Mahatma Gandhi`s followers in India and Sri Lanka.
Above all, our relationship thrives through the inter-woven lives of ordinary Indians and Sri Lankans.
Our independent life began at about the same time.
Sri Lanka has made remarkable progress since then.
The nation is an inspiration for our region in human development. Sri Lanka is home to enterprise and skill; and extraordinary intellectual heritage.
There are businesses of global class here.
Sri Lanka is a leader in advancing cooperation in South Asia.
And, it is important for the future of the Indian Ocean Region.
Sri Lanka`s progress and prosperity is also a source of strength for India.
So, Sri Lanka`s success is of great significance to India.
And, as a friend, our good wishes, and our support and solidarity have always been with Sri Lanka.
And, it will always be there for you.
For all of us in our region, our success depends on how we define ourselves as a nation.
All of us in this region, indeed every nation of diversity, have dealt with the issues of identities and inclusion, of rights and claims, of dignity and opportunity for different sections of our societies.
We have all seen its diverse expressions. We have faced tragic violence. We have encountered brutal terrorism. We have also seen successful examples of peaceful settlements.
Each of us has sought to address these complex issues in our own ways.
However we choose to reconcile them, to me something is obvious:
Diversity can be a source of strength for nations.
When we accommodate the aspirations of all sections of our society, the nation gets the strength of every individual.
And, when we empower states, districts and villages, we make our country stronger and stronger.
You can call this my bias. I have been a Chief Minister for 13 years; a Prime Minister for less than a year!
Today, my top priority is to make the states in India stronger. I am a firm believer in cooperative federalism.
So, we are devolving more power and more resources to the states. And, we are making them formal partners in national decision making processes.
Sri Lanka has lived through decades of tragic violence and conflict. You have successfully defeated terrorism and brought the conflict to an end.
You now stand at a moment of historic opportunity to win the hearts and heal the wounds across all sections of society.
Recent elections in Sri Lanka have reflected the collective voice of the nation – the hope for change, reconciliation and unity.
The steps that you have taken in recent times are bold and admirable. They represent a new beginning.
I am confident of a future of Sri Lanka, defined by unity and integrity; peace and harmony; and, opportunity and dignity for everyone.
I believe in Sri Lanka`s ability to achieve it.
It is rooted in our common civilisational heritage.
The path ahead is a choice that Sri Lanka has to make. And, it is a collective responsibility of all sections of the society; and, of all political streams in the country.
But, I can assure you of this:
For India, the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka are paramount.
It is rooted in our interest. It stems from our own fundamental beliefs in this principle.
Hon`ble Speaker and Distinguished Members,
My vision of an ideal neighbourhood is one in which trade, investments, technology, ideas and people flow easily across borders; when partnerships in the region are formed with the ease of routine.
In India, the growth momentum has been restored. India has become the fastest growing major economy in the world.
The world sees India as the new frontier of economic opportunity.
But, our neighbours should have the first claim on India. And I again repeat, the first claim on India is of our neighbours – of Sri Lanka.
I will be happy if India serves a catalyst in the progress of our neighbours.
In our region, Sri Lanka has the potential to be our strongest economic partner.
We will work with you to boost trade and make it more balanced.
India`s trade environment is becoming more open. Sri Lanka should not fall behind others in this competitive world.
That is why we should conclude an ambitious Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
India can also be a natural source of investments – for exports to India and elsewhere; and to build your infrastructure. We have made good progress today. Let us get together to harness the vast potential of the Ocean Economy.
Our two nations must also take the lead in increasing cooperation in the South Asian Region and the linked BIMSTEC Region.
Connecting this vast region by land and sea, our two countries can become engines of regional prosperity.
I also assure you of India`s full commitment to development partnership with Sri Lanka. We see this as a responsibility of a friend and neighbour.
India has committed 1.6 billion U.S. dollars in development assistance. Today, we have committed further assistance of up to 318 million dollars to the railway sector.
We will continue our development partnership. We will be guided by your Government. And, we will do so with the same level of transparency that we expect in our own country.
Last month we signed the agreement on cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
More than anywhere else in the region, I see enormous potential to expand cooperation with Sri Lanka in areas like agriculture, education, health, science and technology, and space. Indeed, we are limited only by our imagination.
We hope that Sri Lanka will take full benefit of India`s satellite for the SAARC Region. This should be in Space by December 2016.
People are at the heart of our relationship. When we connect people, bonds between nations become stronger. That is why we have decided to extend the visa-on-arrival facility to Sri Lankan citizens.
We will also increase connectivity between our countries. We will strengthen ties of culture and religion. Last month we announced reduction in fees for Sri Lankan nationals visiting National Museum in Delhi to see the Kapilavastu Relics. We will bring our shared Buddhist heritage closer to you through an exhibition. Together, we will develop our Buddhist and Ramayana Trails. My birth place Varnagarh was an international centre of Buddhist learning in ancient times. Excavations have revealed a hostel for 2000 students and in plans to redevelop the centre.
A future of prosperity requires a strong foundation of security for our countries and peace and stability in the region.
The security of our two countries is indivisible. Equally, our shared responsibility for our maritime neighbourhood is clear.
India and Sri Lanka are too close to look away from each other. Nor can we be insulated from one another.
Our recent histories have shown that we suffer together; and we are more effective when we work with each other.
Our cooperation helped deal with the devastation of Tsunami in 2004. As a Chief Minister, I was pleased to share our experience in reconstruction after the Bhuj earthquake in 2001.
Our cooperation is also integral to our success in combating terrorism and extremism.
For both of us, local threats remain. But, we see threats arising in new forms and from new sources. We are witnessing globalisation of terrorism. The need for our cooperation has never been stronger than today.
The Indian Ocean is critical to the security and prosperity of our two countries. And, we can be more successful in achieving these goals if we work together; build a climate of trust and confidence; and we remain sensitive to each other`s interest.
We deeply value our security cooperation with Sri Lanka. We should expand the maritime security cooperation between India, Sri Lanka and Maldives to include others in the Indian Ocean area.
I often say that the course of the 21st century would be determined by the currents of the Indian Ocean. Shaping its direction is a responsibility for the countries in the region.
We are two countries at the crossroads of the Indian Ocean. Your leadership and our partnership will be vital for building a peaceful, secure, stable and prosperous maritime neighbourhood.
In our deeply interconnected lives, it is natural to have differences. Sometimes, it touches the lives of ordinary people. We have the openness in our dialogue, the strength of our human values and, the goodwill in our relationship to resolve them.
Sri Lanka and India are at a moment of a great opportunity and responsibility – for realising the dreams of our people.
This is also a time for renewal in our relationship; for a new beginning and new vigour in our partnership.
We have to ensure that our proximity always translates into closeness.
We were honoured that President Sirisena chose India as his first destination last month. I am honoured to be his first guest here.
This is how it should be between neighbours.
Tomorrow I will go to Talaimannar to flag off the train to Madhu Road. This is part of the old India –Lanka rail link.
I recall the lines of a famous song ‘Sindu Nadiyin Misai’ composed by the great nationalist poet Subramanian Bharati in the early 20th century:
‘Singalatheevukkinor paalam ameippom’(we shall construct a bridge to Sri Lanka)
I have come with the hope of building this bridge – a bridge that rests on strong pillars of our shared inheritance; of shared values and vision; of mutual support and solidarity; of friendly exchanges and productive cooperation; and, above all, belief in each other and our shared destiny. Thank you once again for the honour to be with you.
Thank you very much.