NEW DELHI: Projecting India’s centrality to Buddhist thought and reaching out to pilgrims and tourists seeking to connect with Buddhist heritage sites in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi deployed a ‘soft power’ political exercise on Saturday while addressing a virtual gathering on “Dhamma Chakra Diwas” to mark Buddha’s first sermon at Sarnath.
The International Buddhist Confederation’s event saw Modi making an outreach, as he has before on occasions like Vesak Day, to the Buddhist world — one more area where China and India compete for influence. The event was hosted by the culture ministry at Rashtrapati Bhavan and saw virtual participation of leaders from major Buddhist countries, including Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, barring China. Apart from Tibetan Buddhists who participated in the celebrations, the Dalai Lama also made a video address at the Dhammachakra Pravartan celebration.
On the one hand, while China has invested extensively in infrastructure to cultivate Buddhist leaders, Modi has also relied on regular references to the Buddhist tradition and sites in India and Sri Lanka, apart from participating in the culture ministry’s Buddha Jayanti event earlier this year. Organisations like IBC have helped develop, in a more formalised fashion, India’s connections with leading Buddhist leaders in east Asia and other parts of the world.
Inviting Buddhist pilgrims and tourists to India, the PM highlighted the government’s efforts to provide better connectivity of Buddhist sites. “We in India have many such (Buddhist) sites. You know how people also know my parliamentary constituency of Varanasi — as home to Sarnath. We want to focus on connectivity to Buddhist sites. A few days back, the Indian cabinet announced that Kushinagar airport will be an international one. This would bring so many people, pilgrims and tourists. It would also generate economic opportunities,” he said.
Modi joined President Ram Nath Kovind in emphasising the continued relevance of Lord Buddha. “Today the world fights extraordinary challenges. To these challenges, lasting solutions can come from the ideals of Lord Buddha. They were relevant in the past. They are relevant in the present. And, they will remain relevant in the future,” he said.
Tourism and culture minister Prahlad Patel also presented five volumes of the ‘Mongolian Kanjur’, a Buddhist canonical text in 108 volumes which is regarded as the most important religious text in Mongolia, to President Kovind and the Ambassador of Mongolia Gonching Ganboid. Patel said the ministry will endeavour to print all 108 volumes to all monasteries across Mongolia.


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