Yangon: It was a day of religious diplomacy by India as External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Saturday inaugurated a three-day international conference on Buddhism followed by unveiling of a 15-foot statue of Gautam Buddha.
Khurshid, who is in Yangon on his first bilateral visit since assuming office, inaugurated the Buddhism conference attended by scholars from 10 countries, apart from monks and teachers. The conference is being jointly organised by Indian Council of Cultural Relations and Sitagu International Buddhist Academy.
In the evening, Khurshid unveiled the 15-foot replica of the statue of Gautam Buddha in the precincts of the Shwedagon Pagoda. The Buddha statue had been gifted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to Myanmar in May 2012.
Myanmar is a Buddhist-majority country and Friday's events were part of India's out-reach initiatives under its soft diplomacy programme. Khurshid along with his wife Louise also took a round of the over 2,600-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda.
The Pagoda which began with a height of 8.2 metres today stands at close to 110 metres. The Pagoda is covered with hundreds of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4,531 diamonds, the largest of which is a 72 carat diamond.
Eyeing deeper ties with people of Myanmar, India had on Friday extended a grant of $1 million for development in the Rakhine state that recently saw decades-old tension between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims explode.
"Myanmar is emerging as a major focal point of interest for the world because it is the latest among countries of the world that are transiting from one form of the government to another...As a neighbour that is significantly involved for our common concerns, we cannot take a backseat when the world engages with Myanmar," Khurshid had made it clear.
India and Myanmar also signed two MoUs for building a Rhitiddim Road connecting the two countries and for setting up of a new consulate in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State.