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Modi’s Bhutan Visit: KINDLING NEW HOPE, By Prof. Arvind Kumar, 19 June, 2014 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 19 June 2014

Modi’s Bhutan Visit


By Prof. Arvind Kumar

Dept. of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University


India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first foreign visit to Bhutan after assuming office has gained salience across the South Asian region. Certainly, the trip had lot to do with symbolic messaging particularly to the Southern Asia region. It was a reaffirmation of abiding relationship on New Delhi’s part and is being seen as remarkable and positive in India-Bhutan bilateral relations.

India figures high on Bhutan agenda and Thimpu’s emphasis on New Delhi as a cornerstone of its foreign policy is now reflected with a greater focus since the country’s transition to democracy in 2008. India has always been committed to Bhutan’s progress and development. And this trip underscored the seriousness New Delhi attaches to Thimpu.

Notably, Prime Minister Modi’s interaction with the Bhutanese leadership mainly centered on extensive development cooperation between the two countries and also explored ways and means to enhance economic ties. India called for greater augmentation of a more responsive Indian financial assistance to Bhutan.

New Delhi also supported Bhutan in building its human resources. In this regard, Modi suggested doubling the number of scholarships provided to Bhutanese students in India and also offered help in setting up a digital library of two million books and periodicals in the Himalayan nation. This would help Bhutan develop its intellectual capacity and ultimately enable it the younger generation in all relevant areas of academic discipline. As, a nation’s intellectual capacity is critical for growth and development.

India also made clear that it would not only nurture its relationship with Bhutan but also strengthen it to the fullest extent possible. The Prime Minister espoused his Government’s motivations and fundamental goals and the parameters needed for strengthening bilateral ties in all probable areas of cooperation. How best India and Bhutan work together in promoting peace and security formed a major part of the discussion. Alongside, the need to explore and tap effectively the tourism potential between the neighbours.

Notably, New Delhi and Thimpu traditionally have lot of linkages. Bhutan's uniqueness and the distinct feature in terms of its understanding the pulse of the nation by identifying Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was appreciated by India. Pertinently, the GNH depends upon the type of neighbourhood and hence geopolitics becomes crucial to measure this concept.

Importantly, China was discussed too given that Beijing presently has no diplomatic relations with Thimpu even as it makes serious attempts in forging ties. However, the two countries maintain friendly exchanges and visits, notwithstanding, a long standing border dispute which is impacting the Himalayan kingdom’s GNH. Indeed, Modi’s visit was keenly watched by Beijing. Whether the visit signals a move to contain China is debatable.

As it stands, over the years India-Bhutan relations have been mutually beneficial which was reaffirmed. Towards that end, both reiterated their commitment to continuity in their policies and achieving the 10,000 MW target in hydropower cooperation by 2020. Recall, hydropower cooperation has been earning precious revenue for Bhutan through export of electricity to India. Clearly, an example of a win-win cooperation for Bhutan as it provides clean electricity to India and has strengthened bilateral economic linkages.

Besides, the neighbours decided to strengthen cooperation in a number of areas including information technology and education. Trade and investment and cooperation in both regional and multilateral forums also figured prominently in their bilateral understanding. Both agreed to continue close coordination and cooperation with each other on issues relating to their national interests, and not allow each other's territory to be used for interests inimical to the other. Primarily intended to demonstrate that Thimpu would never allow its territory to be used for insurgency.

It must be emphasized here that Bhutan is perhaps the only country in India’s neighbourhood, which so far has helped New Delhi in tackling militants working from its territory. In fact, Bhutan had conducted 'Operation All Clear' against India-specific insurgents.

New Delhi also conveyed its decision to exempt Bhutan from any ban or quantitative restrictions on export of items like milk powder, wheat, edible oil, pulses and non-basmati rice. Which would not only help Thimpu intensify and augment its trade with India as its largest trading partner but also enhance the $1.1 billion bilateral trade in the foreseeable future. Remember, India has provided development assistance to Bhutan since 1961. 

Undeniably, Prime Minister Modi’s visit underlined the importance of neighbourly relations, reflecting New Delhi’s keenness to intensify its partnership with countries in its neighbourhood. India understands Bhutan’s strategic location, its geographical importance and the relevance of a good and a peaceful neighbour. Given that China’s sphere of influence in the region has increased thanks to the UPA by and large ignoring its neighbours and that it shares border with four of India’s neighbours wherein Beijing capitalized its potential and enhanced its interest.

Significantly, China could not make its inroads in Bhutan.


In sum, Modi's visit was momentous in the context that it was a signal to China about its seriousness in India-Bhutan ties as reflected in its behavioural patterns. New Delhi has always been Thimpu’s reliable partner to augment and strengthen Bhutanese economy. Thus, economic partnership will be the key in bilateral relations.

Bhutan, in real sense, is now emerging on the scene especially after its transition to democracy. It has the potential and needs to develop in all sectors. Its first road was built in 1962 and television and the internet arrived in 1999. It is the world's first country to monitor Gross National Happiness vis-à-vis to Gross Domestic Product. Moreover, the emerging India-Bhutan partnership will address Thimpu’s high unemployment and a growing national debt.

India needs to streamline and focus on its strategy towards Bhutan in the new regime. The Prime Minister’s visit has brought new hopes to the Bhutanese, especially the need to evolve a robust and comprehensive partnership in every dimension of the relationship. ----- INFA

(Copyright, India News and  Feature Alliance)
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