India and Bhutan on Monday decided to scale up their bilateral relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserting that a “strong” and “prosperous” India can help smaller countries in the region.
Concluding his two-day visit to the Himalayan Kingdom, Mr. Modi gave an assurance that a change of government in Delhi will not affect their ties and past commitments will be fulfilled.
Thimphu, on its part, promised not to allow its territory to be used against India, an assurance that comes against the backdrop of militants from northeast taking shelter there.
Just before winding up his visit, Prime Minister Modi, who was given a rare honour of addressing the joint session of Bhutan’s Parliament, agreed with Speaker of the National Assembly Jigme Zangpo that stronger India is, the better it is for Bhutan.
Referring to the welcome remarks by Mr. Zangpo, Mr. Modi said the entire region, especially the SAARC countries, could benefit if India is prosperous. “Only a strong, prosperous India can help alleviate the problems that its neighbours face,” he said.
Bhutan PM thanks India
Meanwhile, Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay thanked India for the allocation of Rs. 45 billion for the 11th Five Year Plan and Rs. 5 billion for the economic stimulus plan of Bhutan.
Mr. Modi also reiterated India’s commitment to support Bhutan for the successful implementation of the 11th Five Year Plan and continue with capacity building especially in the education and IT sectors.
The two sides acknowledged the importance of cooperation and mutual benefit arising from the hydropower sector between them and expressed satisfaction on the progress being made.
They reiterated their commitment to achieving the 10,000 MW target.
At the end of the visit, the first foreign outing since he took over three weeks ago, the two countries came out with a joint statement that reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthening the special relationship between the two countries.
They expressed satisfaction with the cooperation related to their mutual security.
The two countries agreed to continue with their close coordination and cooperation on issues relating to their national interests, and not allow each other’s territory to be used for interests inimical to the other, the joint statement said.
The Prime Minister also said both India and Bhutan have seen transitions of power but their relationship has remained strong.
He said that change in government will not alter the dynamics of Indo-Bhutan ties, as he vowed to further deepen the relationship through certain new proposals like organising joint sports events between Bhutan and India’s northeastern states and setting up a Himalaya University for joint research.
Asserting that, “terrorism divides, tourism unites,” Mr. Modi said Bhutan has immense potential in the tourism sector.
He said development of tourism does not require large investment but can yield substantial profit and even the poor can benefit from it.
“Strong Bhutan will benefit India like a strong and prosperous India will be beneficial for the countries of the region, especially the SAARC members. India’s prosperity is important as then it can help small countries and perform its duty of a good neighbour. But if India is weak and struggling with its own problems, then how can it help others,” he said.
Mr. Modi said India was always conscious of its responsibility towards its neighbours and in this context referred to the invitation extended to SAARC leaders for his swearing-in ceremony last month. “It added sheen to the event.”
On Indo-Bhutan ties, he said, “Governments have changed but that has not affected the closely-knit ties,” and quoted former Bhutan King to say that India and Bhutan were like “milk and water”.
Mr. Modi electronically laid the foundation stone for 600 MW Kholongchu Hydro-electric project, a joint venture between India and Bhutan.
Mr. Modi also lauded Bhutan for the smooth transition from monarchy to democracy in a span of seven years which showed the maturity in governance in that country.
The fact that the Prime Minister chose Bhutan as his first foreign destination assumes significance since China has lately intensified efforts to woo it and establish full- fledged diplomatic ties with Thimphu.
India also conveyed to Bhutan its decision to exempt Thimphu from any ban or quantitative restrictions on exports of items - milk powder, wheat, edible oil, pulses and non-basmati rice.
India also announced the doubling of the Nehru-Wangchuk scholarship to Rs. 20 million per year and a grant for the establishment of the digital section or E-library in all of 20 districts of Bhutan, the joint statement said.
Mr. Modi on Sunday met Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.
Mr. Modi vowed to nurture bilateral relations which he described as >“B4B - Bharat for Bhutan and Bhutan for Bharat” .
Satisfied visit, says Sushma Swaraj
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who accompanied Mr. Modi, told reporters that the Indian side was “extremely satisfied” with the “extremely successful” visit.
Noting that Mr. Modi believes in speedy implementation of works, she said the projects that have been pending for some time will be executed on fast-track basis by the NDA government.
She also said the commitments made by the earlier governments would be implemented “in toto”, allaying apprehensions on this count.
Describing the Himalayas as a shared legacy, Mr. Modi stressed on the need to develop the region and said India is planning to open a university for Himalayan studies.
Mr. Modi also inaugurated the Supreme Court complex built by India as part of the developmental cooperation.
Besides Ms. Swaraj, Mr. Modi was accompanied by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.
The two sides exchanged views and held discussions on bilateral relations and economic cooperation as well as cooperation in regional and multilateral forums, the joint statement said.
During their talks, Mr. Modi and Mr. Tobgay recalled the free trade arrangement between the two countries and the expanding bilateral trade between the two sides, the statement said.
The two sides also agreed to further promote trade and investments between the two countries.