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* India and Sri Lanka are two sides of the same coin, have to build on the commonalities – President
Mon, Aug 15, 2022, 09:09 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Aug 15, Colombo: Pointing out that India and Sri Lanka share many commonalities and are two sides of the same coin, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe said the two neighbors have to stay together and commit themselves to further strengthening the relationships.

Mr. Wickremesinghe emphasized that since history has brought India and Sri Lanka together, the two sides should continue to be together and said that they should work together to overcome the problems of the region and the world.

The President made these comments speaking at the ceremony held today to hand over a Dornier 228 Reconnaissance aircraft to Sri Lanka by India.

Mr. Wickremesinghe further mentioned that Sri Lanka, a small country in the Indian Ocean, is looking forward to India’s upcoming role as a global power, and that the government has the ability to work with them with understanding.

The President also said that this should be used as an opportunity to further strengthen the relations between India and Sri Lanka on the occasion of 75 years of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Mr. Wickremesinghe mentioned that there are many issues that are common to the two countries, not only for Indo-Lankan relations but also for the region and the world.

“There are many issues that are common to us of which we are understanding, of which we have to resolve. Not only issues pertaining to Indo-Lanka relations but to the region and to the world. So in these areas it is possible for us, and it has been on many occasions for us to come to an agreement or have a similar viewpoint with India.”

Speaking of a common heritage, the President said as for the Ramayana, it is of common literary importance to both the countries and there are only a few minor differences. The President said that India considers Rama as a hero and Sri Lanka considers both Rama and Ravana as heroes.

During the bilateral security talks held between India and Sri Lanka on January 9, 2018 in New Delhi, attention was paid to the provision of two Dornier-class maritime surveillance aircraft from India to improve Sri Lanka’s maritime surveillance capabilities.

Later, in response to the Sri Lankan government’s request, the Indian government has agreed to provide a Dornier 228 maritime surveillance aircraft belonging to the Indian Navy for free for the initial two years since it takes about two years to produce a new aircraft.

At the end of this first two years, the Government of India has expressed its willingness to provide a new Dornier 228 maritime patrol aircraft free of charge and to provide another new aircraft on mutually agreed terms and conditions with the Government of Sri Lanka.

Defense Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne, Presidential Senior Advisor and Chief of Staff Sagala Ratnayake, Chief of Defense Staff General Shavendra Silva, Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sudarshan Pathiranage, Navy Commander Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugethanna, Army Commander Lieutenant General Vikum Liyanage and others attended the event.

Following is the President’s speech in full:

First and foremost I must thank the Indian Government and also the Indian Navy who’ve been helping us from time immemorial. I remember as a small kid of around 6 or 7 years the first war ship that I got on to was one belonging to the Indian Navy at that time given by the British Royal Navy.

But since the Commander of the Air Force and the High Commissioner has dealt at length about the aircraft I thought I should say a few words about the special occasion today the 75th Anniversary of Indian Independence.

Yesterday, I was listening, thanks to You Tube, to the speech made by Pandit Nehru on the day of Independence, ‘The Twist with Destiny’. There was one passage which I thought I should quote to you. “The achievement we celebrate today is but a step. An opening of opportunities to the greater trials and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?”

India grasped it. The way forward was shown by none other than Pandit Nehru. What you grasp you’re reaping today. India today is becoming a world power and it is still on the rise and by the mid-century when we are no longer there, you could see a powerful India playing a dominant role on the global stage. That itself is a tribute to Pandit Nehru.

Diverging from my speech, it just reminds me of a tribute paid to him by one of India’s politicians and one of is leading opponents, Prime Minister Vajpayee. Speaking one day in parliament in the Lok Sabah he said how he made a speech about Pandit Nehru and he called him half Churchill half Chamberlin. That evening he met Pandit Nehru at a dinner and Pandit Nehru came up to him and said ‘you made a very robust speech’ and patted him on the back and went off. That, he said was a sign of greatness of Pandit Nehru.

There is something more that we in Sri Lanka must mention, which a lot of people don’t know. Pandit Ji gave us full cooperation for Sri Lanka to enter the United Nations and to become a member. I remember and I was told how his representative to the UN Minister V.K. Krishna Menon gave all the support to my father to go around in New York arranging for Sri Lanka’s entry into the United Nations. My father knew him well. I only saw him at a distance as a student watching his car pass by on the way to India House. But, I had the fortune and the privilege to have met many other Indian politicians, especially Prime Minister Morarji Desai and Prime Minister Charan Singh, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ad Prime Minister Narasimha Rao who I knew very well cause we were both ministers of education and Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral and Prime Minister Vajpayee. They were all well-known and of course Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was opening up the economy when I was the Minister of Industries and Madam Sonia Gandhi and President Pranab Mukherjee as well as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to whom we must be grateful for this aircraft.

There are many others I have known and my advice to rising politicians in Sri Lanka, those who aspire for higher office, is get to know your Indian colleagues, get to know them well and get to deal with them because if you do not do that, it will be difficult for you to look at issues and understand what each other says. We have common viewpoints in many areas. We are but a small country in the middle of the ocean, while India, while looking after its own interests must also look at its role as a global power.

But it is essential that we speak to them. After all India is our closest neighbor and there are many issues that are common to us of which we are understanding, of which we have to resolve. Not only issues pertaining to Indo-Lanka relations but to the region and to the world. So in these areas it is possible for us, and it has been on many occasions for us to come to an agreement or have a similar viewpoint with India. It is with those that we consolidate. But being two states, two governments there are also times when there are differences which should not become disputes because what is our relationship? Our relationship is not merely one of between two countries.

We’ve gone beyond that. We have a common heritage on the banks of the Indus was preached by the Vedas, and on the plains of Ganjees Lord Buddha traversed teaching his own doctrines. Those are what is common to us and it came to us and also what is common to the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. This is what we have built up but within this common past we also have different aspects. In your country it is Hinduism, that is the prevalent religion. In our country it is Buddhism. In Ramayanaya Rama is the hero for the Indians for us Rama and Ravana both are heroes for Sri Lanka. Your language has more dependence on Sanskrit and we have more dependence on Nagadi and Pali. So we can go on and on like this as there are so many things that are common to us. Mahatma Gandhi’s Sathyagraha and the independence non-violence movement was a great inspiration to us because you had no other way of recourse. But for us after 1931, we had a legislature elected by universal franchise. So we took on a different course.

I think if that was available to India, the history of India would have been different. So we have all these commonalities and we have to build on it. I have always said that we are two sides of a single coin. It is not possible to split a coin for one face to fall one way and the other face to fall the other way. For whatever it is, history has put us together and we have to stay together. What is this relationship? I haven’t got a word for it, but the closest I could come is the symbiotic relationship between the two countries. We are both marking our 75th anniversaries. I say let us commit ourselves to further strengthening our relationships.

Thank you for inviting me.


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