The High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, Gopal Baglay, met with senior members of the Sinhala Buddhist clergy last week, as he discussed the implementation of a USD $15 million grant for the “promotion of Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka”.
The grant had been announced last month at a virtual summit between Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The grant comes as Sri Lanka is in the midst of an economic crisis and is seeking debt payment deferrals from India. Rajapaksa also reportedly requested a further $1 billion from New Delhi, in the form of a currency swap. Sri Lanka already owes about $960 million to India and earlier this year India agreed to a $400 million currency swap facility for Sri Lanka until November 2022.
The High Commissioner noted that “this is a first of its kind grant announcement by India and stated that the grant may be utilised for construction/renovation of Buddhist monasteries, capacity development, cultural exchanges, archaeological cooperation, reciprocal exposition of The Buddha’s relics, strengthening engagement of Buddhist scholars and clergy”.
The Government of India has also recently declared the Kushinagar Airport in India, the place of Lord Buddha’s Mahaparinibbana, as an international airport to receive Buddhist pilgrimages at the religious site. Given India and Sri Lanka’s ties, Sri Lanka would be granted the first inaugural flight to the airport, added Baglay.
These developments come as Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya has emphasized the centrality of Buddhism to an increasingly nationalist state.
In the wake of the USD $15 million grant Tamil lawmaker C V Wigneswaran called on India to ensure the “construction / renovation of Buddhist monasteries and archaeological cooperation will not be used in the traditional Tamil homelands of the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka”.