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Ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s trip, Sri Lanka warms up to India

New Delhi(dna print version): As prime minister Narendra Modi undertakes his first visit abroad in 2015 to three island nations in the Indian Ocean from Tuesday, a news from Sri Lanka, his last stop in the four-day trip has come a music to Indian ears.

Ahead of the first trip by an Indian prime minister to Colombo in 28 years, Sri Lanka has suspended a $1.5-billion Chinese luxury real estate project, which has raised security concerns in India. The project involved a port city on reclaimed land in the capital, complete with shopping malls, a water sports area, golf course, hotels, apartments and marinas, which according to new Sri Lankan government had launched “without relevant approvals from concerned institutions”.

Modi will land in Colombo on March 13 after visiting Seychelles and Mauritius. Besides addressing Sri Lanka’s parliament, he will be travelling to Anuradhapura, the centre of the country’s Buddhist culture, and also the Tamil-dominated Jaffna. Rajiv Gandhi was the last Indian prime minister to travel to Sri Lanka for a state visit in 1987, when he inked a historic treaty with the then Sri Lankan president JR Jayawardene, securing a commitment from Colombo to grant internal autonomy to Jaffna by incorporating 13th Amendment to Sri Lankan Constitution.

Meanwhile, in order to build close relations with Colombo as well as other Buddhist-dominated countries in South East Asia, the central government is vetting a proposal to offer visa-on-arrival facilities to pilgrims visiting Bodhgaya in Bihar. “The proposal is at an advance stage. The prime minister is keen to push it as part of soft diplomacy,” an official said.

India currently offers visas on arrival to visitors from 44 countries, including the US, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Australia and most of the Pacific Islands. Finance minister Arun Jaitley, in his budget speech announced that the government plans to extend the facility to 150 countries.

But the Bodhgaya pilgrims intending to avail visa-on-arrival facility will have to reach at Gaya’s international airport, the officials said. Visitors will have to apply online. And once they receive an electronic travel authorisation (ETA), they can head straight to holy Buddhist site. Modi’s multi-nation tour of the country’s Indian Ocean neighbours is also loaded with symbolism akin to the PM’s trips to Australia and Fiji last November. He was the first Indian prime minister to travel to Canberra in close to 30 years, and the first to land in Suva since Indira Gandi in 1981. In Mauritius — home to a large Indian diaspora, the prime minister will commission a 1,300-tonne patrol vessel, the first time India is exporting such a vehicle.

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