| A Sri Lankan girl at Bandaranaike international airport in Katunayaka near Colombo on Tuesday after pilgrims were airlifted out of Tamil Nadu following threats. (AFP)
Bhopal, Sept. 5: The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh appears to have gone on the defensive over Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s scheduled visit to the Sanchi world heritage site on September 21 following protests in Tamil Nadu.
Rajapaksa is scheduled to lay the foundation stone of a proposed university for Buddhist studies at Sanchi, home to the oldest existing Buddhist sanctuary.
The site in Sanchi, 48km north of Bhopal, houses Buddhist monuments that include monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries, most of which date back to the 2nd and 1st centuries BC.
Apart from Rajapaksa, official delegations from countries like Bhutan, Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia are scheduled to attend the event.
But it’s Rajapaksa’s visit that has sparked outrage in Tamil Nadu, where political leaders like Vaiko blame the Lankan President for the killing of “innocent” Tamils in Sri Lanka in the armed conflict against the LTTE that created a sense of outrage at the UN, too.
Earlier this week, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa had sent back amateur footballers from Sri Lanka who had arrived in Chennai to play friendly matches.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan today called off his visit to Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu. Chauhan had planned to personally greet pilgrims who had left Bhopal on September 3 by a special train under his pet scheme Mukhyamantri Teerth-Darshan Yojna.
Under the scheme for citizens above 60, the over 1,000 pilgrims will be enjoying 10 days of hospitality free of cost, including train fare, meals, medicines and local expenses.
Chauhan, who faces elections in November next year, plans to send 60,000 pilgrims to various places of religious significance such as Puri, Amritsar, Badrinath, Ajmer, Hardwar, Amarnath, Vaishnodevi, Shirdi, Tirupati and Velankanni Church by the end of March 2013.
A government spokesperson said Chauhan was not “well” but BJP insiders said even state party president Prabhat Jha, who was to accompany the chief minister, had cancelled his visit to Tamil Nadu after hearing some strong words from MDMK leader Vaiko.
Vaiko had threatened to greet Chauhan with black flags for the invite to Rajapaksa.
He has also written to Chauhan, warning him not to “hurt Tamil sentiments”. He has blamed Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj, too, for inviting Rajapaksa to Sanchi, which is part of the BJP MP’s constituency Vidisha.
Swaraj has denied Vaiko’s allegation and said the invite was sent by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and external affairs minister S.M. Krishna. She also clarified that as leader of the Opposition, she couldn’t send an official invite to a foreign dignitary.
Vaiko says it is “illogical” that Rajapaksa has been invited for an event that involves Buddhism because the Buddha not only preached peace and tolerance but also practised it.
“BJP leaders like Nitin Gadkari and Yashwant Sinha who have deeply mourned for the Lankan Tamils must take appropriate steps to cancel the invitation extended to Rajapaksa,” Vaiko said in an appeal to senior party leaders. “If they fail to do so, I shall lead a black-flag demonstration at Sanchi on September 21.”
Central ally DMK, the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu, is also against Rajapaksa’s visit. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi said his party would join the demonstration.