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PM Narendra Modi in Sri Lanka Stresses on Peace and Harmony in a Multi-Language Society as it bonds People

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid homage to the brave hearts who lost their lives in 2001 Parliament attck
Prime Minister Modi in a garden Wikimedia

Dickoya (Sri Lanka), May 12, 2017: In the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to the Tamil-dominated tea plantation area in Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said there is no better place than a peaceful and harmonious multi-language society that unifies cultures and bonds people.

“There is no better place than a multi-language society with peace and harmony,” he said with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe by his side.

He was speaking at a public meeting after dedicating a 150-bed state-of-art hospital constructed with Indian aid, and pointed out that he is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit “this beautiful region”.

Modi had visited Sri Lanka two years ago and had undertaken a trip to Jaffna in the north at that time.

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The plantation Tamils are distinct from the Tamils of North and East in the island nation, which has for over three decades faced a violent struggle in the North and East by Tamils for their rights.

In a 30-minute speech peppered with quotes from the works of Tamil saints and scholars, he also announced India’s assistance in the construction of 10,000 additional houses in upcountry areas, where 4,000 have already been built under ownership basis for the beneficiaries.

He also said that India has decided to extend the 1990 emergency ambulance service, currently operating in Western and Southern provinces, to all other provinces.

Modi gave an assurance that India will fully support the journey of economic progress of the Tamils and others in Sri Lanka.

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“You are the children of Tamil mother. You speak one of the oldest classical languages of the world. Along with that you also speak Sinhalese, which is a matter of pride. Language is not just a tool of communication but it also bonds and unifies cultures and people.

Recalling the links between Tamils and Sinhalese, Modi said they are historically intertwined and were used in the courts of Nayak kings of Madurai and Thanjavur. There were even marriages among people speaking the two languages.

“We are for strengthening the spirit of unity and harmony and you must be a force in this,” he said, while addressing the Indian-origin Tamils, whose ancestors came to this part of Sri Lanka two hundred years ago.

Heaping praise on the contribution by Soumyamurthy Thondaman, the founder of the Ceylon Workers Congress, the Prime Minister recalled the troubles that the Indian-origin would have encountered when their ancestors came from India.

“Today, we remember your forefathers, those men and women of strong will and courage, who undertook the journey of life from India to then Ceylon. The journey may have been uphill and struggle hard but they never gave up. We remember and salute their spirit,” he said.

Modi said that the Tamils had encountered hardship in establishing their identity in a newly independent country through peaceful struggles. In this context, he referred to the late Thondaman, who had worked hard for the prosperity of the plantation Tamils and in their campaign for economic progress.

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He recalled that Mahatma Gandhi had made a single visit to the plantation areas of Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and other places and in commemoration of the historic visit the Mahatma Gandhi Centre was set up with Indian assistance in 2015.

The Prime Minister said that the plantation Tamils would be completing shortly 200 years of their migration to the hill areas, and as a mark of this milestone “we will continue to participate in the journey for economic prosperity and progress”.

“We see you as a seamless part of our continuum. We want to nurture this relationship between Sri Lanka and India and establish ties in which my government’s priority is to work for the progress of all Indians and all Sri Lankans,” he said.

He said the Indian government had from 1947 undertaken programmes in education, health and community development centres in cooperation with the Sri Lankan government.

Under this 700 scholarships are available to students either in Sri Lanka or in India.

Praising the hard work of the plantation Tamils, he said Ceylon tea is famous the world over but it is less known that the sweat and toil of the Tamils are behind it. Sri Lanka is the third largest exporter of tea globally and earns a huge sum as foreign exchange for the country. (IANS)

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Indian Politics and Polity Shift to the Right and Away from Europe

India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism

Rahul Gandhi becomes president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi steps down
Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress, Wikipedia

By Dr. Richard Benkin, Chicago

  • India is world’s largest democracy
  • Indian politics is always under international coverage
  • India is witnessing political shift due to its leaders and their transformation

The great democracy was electing its national leader.  It was a fight between the party in power with a leftist tinge; and the more conservative opposition with its upstart candidate. The media was rooting openly for the leftist candidate and would stop at almost nothing, even vilifying the conservative upstart as evil, not just wrong.  The candidate on the left seemed to feel entitled, that being head of state was all in the family.  And, as you probably have guessed, that candidate lost.  You might or might not have guessed that, despite the familiarity to American voters, this was not the United States.  It was India.

will also hold a meeting there with the Indian community. Wikimedia Commons
Narendra Modi’ win in 2014 elections stunned the whole nation. Wikimedia Commons

India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism.  Its candidate, then 43 year old, Rahul Gandhi, was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Prime Ministers; and though India is the world’s largest democracy, not the world’s largest monarchy, it was “his turn” to take the nation’s top spot.

The similarities between the Indian Congress Party and the US Democrat Party stop, however, with how the two parties and their dynastic candidates reacted to their defeats.  While there is ample evidence that the Democrats are moving further to the left, India’s Congress, and especially its former candidate, seem to have taken the lessons of their defeat to heart.  Moreover, we too often gauge a polity’s position on the left-right spectrum by which major party dominates.  In the Indian case, however, we get a deeper understanding by examining changes in the out of power party.

Also Read: Rahul Gandhi Elected as President of Congress Amidst Celebration of Followers

The Indian National Congress Party was founded in 1885 and, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, was the principal leader of the movement that led to India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947.  It has ruled India for roughly 57.5 of its 70.5 years as a modern nation (81.6 percent of its entire existence).  Congress fashions itself left-center party with “democratic socialism” as one of the party’s guiding principles; and over the years, I have written a number of articles, criticizing what I believe to be weak Congress policies.  It has followed the lead of soft left European parties, in contrast with the Indian nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Amitabh Tripathi is a well-known Indian political commentator.  I caught up with him in New Delhi in February and asked him about how the Congress Party was reacting to its crushing 2014 defeat.

RB:  So, was the 2014 election a strong statement about traditional Indian politics?

AT:  Definitely.  Till 1991, Indian politics was at a status quo with socialist, leftist, and communist stances prevalent.  After 1991, right wing politics emerged as a political force.  Since then, Indian politics has shifted to the right; and from time to time for more than two decades, left and right engaged in direct political confrontations.  Congress led the coalition of leftists; and the BJP emerged as the leader of the right.  The BJP ruled the country for six years (1998-2004) and its policies swung to the right, including a vocal and unapologetic relationship with Israel, moving forward strategically with the United States, and exploring India’s role in the Indian Ocean to contain China and its imperialistic ambitions. When the BJP lost power to a Congress led coalition in 2004, the Indian polity again shifted left; and Congress became a complete replica of its 1960s self—a totally leftist party.

Rahul Gandhi becomes the president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi Steps Down
Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run). It is believed he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party.

In 2014, when elections occurred, the Indian polity moved on to the right on issues from economics to culture.  Before the election, Congress did not read the undercurrent of the people and moved even further left on those issues.  This has been widely acknowledged as the reason for its crushing defeat.

RB:  So it was a real shift to the right among Indians, which sounds a lot like our own experience in 2016.  In the US, the losing Democrat party has reacted by moving further left.  Has India’s Congress tried to understand the reasons behind its defeat?

AT:  The latter statement is correct.  Immediately after losing the elections, Congress realized it was not simply an electoral defeat.  Its ideological stagnation led to the historical loss.  And it tried to rectify that and re-invent itself.

RB:  How have they done that?

AT:  I observed it on three fronts, three major decisions.  First, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the former party President and current head of the dynastic family, took an almost “voluntary” retirement.  She had become the face of hard left and anti-Hindu policies.

RB:  Sounds familiar.  Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi has become the same here, but she does not seem to be going anywhere.

AT:  Second, in ten years of Congress rule, they openly flaunted themselves as very pro-Muslim, which irritated the majority Hindus in India.  But last year, in prestigious elections in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Sonia Gandhi did not address a single rally.  Plus, Congress Party Vice-President (now President) Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run).  We believe he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party.  Some people might say it was an opportunistic political move, but I would say it was a well-calculated shift in the party to shed the tags of pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu.

Third, since the days of the freedom movement before independence, and during the rule of Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi (almost the entire period from independence to 1984); Congress followed the policy of demonizing the wealthy and glorifying the poor.  It seems, however, that Rahul Gandhi wants the population to know that he strongly favors the wealth generating middle class and capitalism; he opposes only crony capitalism.  He says the poor should aspire to become wealthy through greater opportunities and employment.

RB:  What about Rahul Gandhi himself?  Does he have a future in Indian politics?

AT:  Since 2014, we have watched his evolution from entitled politician to serious politician who understands the people’s aspirations and country’s need.  Perhaps most importantly has been his understanding of foreign policy and India’s role and responsibilities at a global level.  He has said that he’s ready to take the responsibility of the office of Prime Minister if elected, and he could make a formidable candidate.

Raul Maino
Rahul Gandhi can potentially cause a shift in Indian politics due to his transformation. Twitter

RB:  I’ve heard a lot of people talking positively about him and his growth in my time here.  I believe you also told me he has spent a lot of this time really listening to people from all classes and communities.  Thank you, Amitabh ji, it’s always a pleasure to hear your thoughts, and always a pleasure to be in India.

In a larger context, we have seen a reaction against decades of leftist overreach worldwide:  Donald Trump’s election; Brexit; and a number of elections in Europe rejecting the European Union and loss of national identity (most recently in Italy).  There has been little focus on Asia perhaps because it has not been in the orbit of traditional left-right equations in the West.  India, however, has become a major player on the world stage under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  It has historical conflicts with both Pakistan and China, and can be a major bulwark against Chinese expansion westward.  India also has strengthened its alliances with both the United States and Israel while maintaining relations with Iran.  The rightward movement there is highly significant in plotting future Indian geopolitical moves.

[Richard Benkin is a human rights activist and author with a strong concentration in South Asia.  Amitabh Tripathi appears often on Indian television and in other media.  He is also a contributor to What is Moderate Islam, edited by Richard Benkin.  This interview was conducted in New Delhi on February 27, 2018, while Benkin was there as part of a recently-concluded human rights mission.]