Insights into Editorial: Something special: On Narendra Modi’s Bhutan visit
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two day visit to Thimphu affirmed a long-standing tradition between India and Bhutan, where the leaders of both countries have given visiting each other a major priority early in their tenures.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined a new blueprint for cooperation between India and Bhutan that would add a fresh dimension to the ties so far dominated by the hydel power sector.
PM Modi’s trip was his first to Bhutan since the China-India military face-off in 2017, triggered by an intrusion by Chinese troops into territory claimed by Bhutan.
It aims to diversify India’s partnership with the kingdom from cooperation in hydropower and enhanced trade to linkages in space, health and education.
It comes in the backdrop of efforts by Beijing to seek support from Thimphu, and calls within sections of the Bhutanese political establishment for stronger diplomatic ties with China, and a shift away from its hydel power ties with India.
Treaty of Punakha between India and Bhutan:
It was the agreement signed on 8th January, 1910 at Punakha Dzong. There was some prior working agreement between Bhutan and British India, signed in 1865.
Under the Treaty of Punakha, Britain guaranteed Bhutan’s independence and took control of Bhutanese foreign relations.
It also affirmed Bhutanese independence as one of the few Asian kingdoms, never conquered by a regional or colonial power.
Bhutan was given an option by the British to remain independent or join the Indian Union. Bhutan chose to remain independent.
Amid growing security concern over communist China, Indo-Bhutan Treaty was signed in August, 1949.
This is known as Treaty of Peace and Friendship and was signed in Darjeeling. It is continuation of Anglo-Bhutanese Treaty of 1910.
However, in February, 2007, it was revised, which clarifies Bhutan’s status as an independent and sovereign nation.
PM lists space, education as new areas of cooperation with Bhutan:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined a new blueprint for cooperation between India and Bhutan, identifying space, education, and health as areas that would add a fresh dimension to ties dominated so far by cooperation in the hydel power sector.
The two leaders unveiled e-plaque of the interconnection between India’s National Knowledge Network and Bhutan’s Druk Research and Education Network.
The Prime Minister invited more students to visit India for studies in traditional areas such as Buddhism and newer areas like space research, while speaking to students at the Royal University of Bhutan during a visit to the country sandwiched between India and China.
India, Bhutan deepen trade ties:
India and Bhutan deepened their energy partnership with Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the 720 megawatts (MW) Mangdechhu hydropower project, which underlined the government’s “neighbourhood first” policy, as well as India’s “special relationship” with the strategically located country.
On increasing the currency swap limit for Bhutan under the SAARC currency swap framework, Modi said India’s approach is “positive”, adding that an additional USD 100 million will be available to Bhutan under a standby swap arrangement to meet the foreign exchange requirement.
Open borders, close alignment and consultation on foreign policy, and regular, open communications on all strategic issues are the hallmark of the relationship that has maintained its consistency for the past many decades.
Bhutan’s unequivocal support to India on strategic issues has meant a lot to India on the international stage and at the United Nations.
India and Bhutan resolve to expand bilateral cooperation:
During the visit, Prime Minister Modi and the Bhutanese leadership resolved to take the bilateral cooperation beyond hydroelectric power sector.
Prime Minister Modi also addressed the students of Royal Bhutan University in Thimphu. He said that happiness shall always prevail over mindless hate.
He said, Bhutan’s message to humanity is happiness which springs from harmony.
Mr Modi appreciated that Bhutan has understood the essence of happiness as well as the spirit of harmony, togetherness and compassion.
The Prime Minister said, going beyond the traditional sectors of cooperation, both countries are seeking to cooperate extensively in new frontiers, from schools to space, and digital payments to disaster management.
He said that 1.3 billion Indian people are ready to partner with Bhutanese people in their future endeavours, especially in education.
India Bhutan jointly inaugurated the Ground Earth Station and SATCOM network, developed with assistance from ISRO for utilization of South Asia Satellite in Bhutan.
Committed to facilitate Bhutan’s development through the use of space technology, Modi said India will enhance the communication, public broadcasting and disaster management coverage in Bhutan.
Modi also launched RuPay Card in Bhutan by making a purchase at Simtokha Dzong. Built in 1629 by Shabdrung Namgyal, Simtokha Dzong functions as a monastic and administrative centre and is one of the oldest dzongs in Bhutan.
The two countries signed various MoUs to diversify the friendship. The sectors include, space, education, science, technology and legal education.
The fundamental area of cooperation is the hydro power sector but both sides needed to deepen the relationship in other areas education, health care science and technology.
As part of India’s economic diplomacy, including efforts to exert strategic influence in its neighbourhood with infrastructure development, New Delhi is helping Bhutan build 10,000MW of hydropower with concessional finance, and an overall investment of about $10 billion.
New Delhi will have to remain alert to strategic powers which are courting Bhutan assiduously, as is evident from the high-level visits from China and the U.S.
In a world of growing options, it remains in India’s and Bhutan’s best interests to make each other’s concerns a top priority.