Even as some of the world’s most influential leaders spoke at the Vibrant Gujarat, it was Bhutan’s Prime Minister who stole the limelight and the maximum applause from the audience.
Calling Bhutan one of the world’s “smallest countries, sandwiched between two of the world’s biggest powers India and China,” PM Tshering Tobgay, won both cheers and clapping from the crowd at the Mahatma Mandir hall in Gandhinagar with his witty remarks. Directly after the function, he was mobbed by many, even as one businessman was heard saying in jest, “This has become a Vibrant Bhutan function.”
Mr. Tobgay met with RIL chief Mukesh Ambani on the sidelines of the summit as well, although sources said no firm proposals were discussed. When asked about the response to PM Tobgay, Bhutan’s ambassador to India Gen Namgyal told The Hindu , “It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to project Bhutan on this stage, but we had no intention of taking any of the limelight.”
“Forget competing with other countries, I know that the GDP of my country is less than the personal wealth of many of you in the room,” Mr. Tobgay said, to much laughter in the audience, which included top Indian industrialists RIL chief Mukesh Ambani, Power baron Gautam Adani and Adi Godrej. In fact, at about $1.88 billion, Bhutan’s GDP is just a fraction of their assets, with Mr. Ambani’s personal wealth estimated at about $22 billion, Mr. Adani’s at $7.1 billion, and Mr. Godrej’s at $3.8 billion.
However, he said he valued Bhutan’s “gross national happiness” far higher than its GDP, and invited the gathering to “Bhutan is open for business,” said Mr. Tobgay, “But only for clean, green and sustainable businesses, like hydropower, organic agriculture etc.”
Speaking after UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry, both of whom had made battling climate change the focus of their remarks, Mr. Tobgay’s speech dwelled on Bhutan’s “clean and green policies”. He said the country’s forests cover 72 per cent of the area, it is dependent on hydropower, which accounts for 40% of Bhutan’s earnings, and the government’s ‘carbon-neutral’ policies ensure a “pollution-free” atmosphere for investors. “We also have open access to free markets,” indicating India, which drew a laugh from Prime Minister Modi.
Mr. Tobgay explained that he had planned to visit the Buddhist sites in Varanasi and Bodhgaya in January, but when PM Modi invited him to the Vibrant Gujarat summit he decided to “take an economic pilgrimage ahead of his spiritual pilgrimage” and visit Gujarat first, a comment he made in fluent Hindi, which brought the audience to its feet.