Visiting the Belgian capital that is yet to recover from the horror of the March 22 terror attacks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said that India shares “the depth of sorrow and grief” of the Belgian people as it has itself experienced terrorist violence on countless occasions.
Modi, who laid a wreath at the Maalbeek metro station that had been hit by a massive suicide bombing on March 22, offered deepest condolences to the families of those killed in the terror strikes in Brussels last week.
In his press statement after holding talks with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Modi said: ”Having experienced terrorist violence ourselves on countless occasions, we share your pain. In this time of crisis, the whole of India stands in full support and solidarity with the Belgian people.”
Modi also proposed resuming bilateral talks on a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. “Negotiations on Extradition Treaty and a Treaty on Exchange of Sentenced Prisoners could be concluded expeditiously,” he said.
Indian Infosys techie Raghavendran Ganesan was among the many killed when a bomb ripped through a train carriage at Maalbeek station, located in the heart of Brussels and close to the EU headquarters.
Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Didier Reynders accompanied Modi to the Maalbeek station and briefed him about the attack.
Seeking to enhance bilateral business ties, Modi also met business leaders of Belgium. In his address, Modi said that while diamonds remain India’s age-old link with their nation, new opportunities have opened up in India, notably in IT and infrastructure.
“Diamonds are, of course, an old link between us. It provides employment to many in India. IT is another sector of promise,” the prime minister told the Belgian CEOs over a luncheon meeting.
Around 2,500 Indians are based in Antwerp, dealing mainly in the diamond trade.
“Today we live in an interdependent world. India offers a huge opportunity — not just a market, but also as a huge talent pool,” Modi said, and gave the examples of ports and inland waterways as areas that can offer them attractive opportunities.
He said India also has “ties of blood with Belgium”.
“Some 100 years ago, 130,000 soldiers from India fought in Belgium and 9,000 of them made supreme sacrifices,” he recalled and referred to the participation of Indian solders in World War I at West Flanders.
Belgians hold an annual commemoration to this sacrifice and have installed a memorial for the lost Indian soldiers in 2001 in the City of Leper.
In the morning, the prime minister arrived to a red carpet welcome and was warmly greeted by a large crowd of Indian diaspora, who waved the Indian tricolour. Many mobbed him for autographs, which the prime minister smilingly signed.
Later, the two prime ministers jointly remote activated Asia’s largest optical telescope, ARIES, located in Nainital, Uttarakhand in India.
“ARIES project is not just a government-to-government initiative, it is a win-win collaboration between private sectors as well,” he said after the inauguration.
Located at the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) at Devasthal near Nainital, it is a 3.6-metre telescope.
India has collaborated with a Belgian company called AMOS to produce this infrared steerable optical telescope which is the first of its kind in the whole of Asia.
Modi is to attend the 13th India-European Union (EU) Summit later in the day.
Brussels is the first leg of his three-nation tour.
He travels to Washington on Thursday to attend the two-day Fourth Nuclear Security Summit to be hosted by US President Barack Obama.
He will visit Riyadh for a bilateral visit to Saudi Arabia on April 2-3.