Aprotectorate of India till 2007 and a constitutional monarchy ever since the democratic election 12 years ago, Bhutan has reinforced its friendship with India during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to the Himalayan country, incidentally India’s only friend in South Asia. The airport in Paro was the re-elected Prime Minister’s landing point in the region and is, therefore, geostrategically significant.
Small wonder that Bhutan’s new Prime Minister, Lotay Tshering, who assumed power a year ago after the surprise victory of the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa, greeted Mr Modi’s visit with a rare effusion ~ “very very successful”. It really was. Speculation that the new government in Thimphu might veer towards China in the manner of Nepal ~ in preference to India ~ “is now a thing of the past” in the assessment of the Bhutan government.
Notably, there is a measure of clarity and consolidation in India-Bhutan relations after the bilateral hiccups a few years ago. The essay towards renewal of the bonhomie was evident in course of Mr Modi’s audience with the Bhutanese king, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, and his father, the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk. The meeting revived memories of the high noon of bonhomie in India’s equation with Bhutanese royalty.
Altogether, the grandstanding both with the Prime Minister and the Palace was exceptional. Beyond diplomatic courtesies, the striking feature of the visit must be that Mr Modi and his counterpart were able to take the parameters beyond hydro-electric power. India’s interest in the commodity has often ruffled feathers in Bhutan with a certain section accusing this country of drawing hydro-electricity to augment its supply of water and electricity.
Happily for the Himalayan country, that obsession has now given way to Mr Modi’s pledge to cooperate in the vital segments of public policy ~ health, education, job creation, cooperation in space, and sharing of knowledge in agriculture. “It is a matter of great happiness that young Bhutanese scientists will travel to India to work on designing and launching Bhutan’s own small satellite,” Mr Modi told students at the Royal University of Bhutan. These form the bedrock of the economy of any country, still more so for landlocked and picturesque Bhutan.
Indeed, India’s pledge is concordant with Prime Minister Tshering’s pre-election promise to bring about change and that his government would be riveted to a “new deal” for the Bhutanese. It is quite evident that India’s approach mirrors the concerns of Bhutan. Carried to its logical fruition, it could turn out to be an exceptional joint venture in economic and social development in a part of South Asia. This is the essence of South Asian cooperation, though the entity known by the acronym, Saarc, has been largely non-functional. The contrast is refreshing considering the beating of the war drum to the west of the Radcliffe Line.