They will prepare the ground for Tobgay’s first visit to India as PM

National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon will head for Thimphu along with Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh to prepare the ground for Tshering Tobgay’s first visit to India after becoming Prime Minister of Bhutan. Soon after taking over as Foreign Secretary last week, Ms. Singh had said Thimphu would be her first foreign destination, symbolising the importance India attached to its immediate neighbourhood, especially Bhutan.

Official sources here confirmed a Bhutanese Foreign Ministry statement about Mr. Menon joining Ms. Singh for the first high-level India-Bhutan talks after bilateral ties were blemished by India’s withdrawal of subsidy on cooking gas and kerosene right in the middle of Bhutan’s general elections.

Mr. Tobgay’s party won the elections amid speculation that subsidy withdrawal leading to increase in gas cylinder and kerosene prices was India’s punishment to the then ruling Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) for breaking bread with the Chinese.

The Ministry of External Affairs denied this was the case. It suggested the withdrawal of subsidy took place because of a misunderstanding with the Petroleum Ministry. Why would India want to sour ties with the DPT, a formidable force in Bhutan politics, which got 45 per cent of votes in the first round when subsidy was in place, sources asked.

Besides meeting new Foreign Minister Rinzin Dorje, Mr. Menon and Ms. Singh will interact with Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Pema Gyamtsho, who was Agriculture Minister in the previous government.

Ms. Singh had chosen to close the chapter by calling the one-month subsidy suspension an “unfortunate technical lapse.” But the impression that some irritant of a strategic nature had cropped up between the two countries appeared difficult to dispel though this visit will see both sides focussing on bilateral business, including a new fund-raising model for the massive hydroelectricity projects being planned in Bhutan.