The Indian Ocean breeze along Colombo’s Galle Face is so strong and the Lankan sky so clear that the fluttering Indian tricolour alongside the Sri Lankan flag makes for a pleasing combination along the length of the Sri Lankan capital’s premium avenue.
Despite various travel bans since the Easter Sunday carnage, ice-cream vendors and Indian tourists who have defied various international travel bans to spend their vacation in Sri Lanka are out on the seafront promenade in full force. It is not only because Sri Lanka’s superlative hospitality industry has taken a beating with a 70% loss in business and Indians love a bargain.
It is also because PM Narendra Modi, whose government in its second coming has already shown a zero tolerance approach to terrorism, arrived in Sri Lanka today. And given India’s experience with tackling terrorism and the host country’s anxiety to ensure Modi’s visit goes off smoothly and safely, there can’t be a safer place than Colombo this weekend. Persons aboard an early morning flight from Delhi to Colombo earlier this week who did not wished to be named, remarked that if their PM can travel to Sri Lanka despite a supposedly high security risk, so could they.
In preparation for PM Modi’s visit, the Sri Lankan capital’s nerve center, its Galle Face where the presidential secretariat and most ministries are located, has been all but barricaded for much of the weekend. Kandyan drummers in jeans practised along the promenade a day earlier. Today, they are in rich Kandyan costumes. There are also hundreds of policemen, snipers, special forces commandoes and police units who have drilled and prepared to ensure there is no security lapse.
There are the long-overdue baggage screening machines and armed troops outside all the hotels that came under attack. The Sri Lankan armed forces, whose men and women have spent the last ten years tending to the forces’ other ‘softer’ occupations like hotels, fruit farms and dairies, are now back to doing what they are meant to: guarding the country and stepping in to aid the police whose superiors failed them by ignoring India’s intelligence inputs, on the fateful Easter Sunday.
All dailies published detailed maps of traffic diversions for much of the day. There was absolutely no traffic on the airport highway into town. There will be none on the Galle Road starting from the imposing President’s Secretariat, very close to the Shangrila, Kingsbury and Cinammon Grand hotels —which came under terror attack — for practically the duration of the PM’s three-hour visit.
The humblest of all venues, though, has the tightest security. That is St Anthony’s church, in the middle-class and bustling area of Kochikade in northern Colombo. Located on a crowded street, mosques and Hindu temples dot the streets across the church dedicated to St Anthony, one of the most popular saints for Sri Lankans of all faith for decades. The church itself is barricaded by scaffolding. A posse of policemen and intelligence officials in civilian clothes are so determined to get the main hall as clean as possible for the Indian PM’s visit, that they didn’t allow even locally accredited journalists inside the main shrine where the carnage took place and more than 50 persons were killed by a suicide bomber on Easter Sunday.