Thursday, 15 May 2008

Bhutan and India: History stays alive

14 May, 2008 - Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh of India is visiting Bhutan in one of the most historic years of the kingdom’s modern history. Bhutan and India have planned a string of historical events for the two-day visit.

India’s ambassador to Bhutan, Mr Sudhir Vyas, said that the government of India considered it a “singular honour” that Dr Manmohan Singh has been asked to address the first joint session of the Bhutanese parliament on May 17. India was honoured and delighted that the prime minister was visiting Bhutan during a year when the kingdom was celebrating the centenary of the monarchy, the coronation of the fifth Druk Gyalpo, the adoption of the constitution, and the installation of the very first elected government in Bhutan.

The visit also comes exactly 50 years after Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru came to Bhutan. “We are attaching particular importance and significance to this visit, both in symbolic as well as in substantive terms,” said Ambassador Vyas. “Just as we had a meeting of minds in 1958 between the third King and Nehru, we are looking at developing a perspective for the future during this visit. It’s tremendously exciting and we are looking at it with enormous anticipation.”

Dr Manmohan Singh will receive an audience with His Majesty the King and with His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo. He will dedicate the Tala hydroelectric project (THP) to the people of Bhutan and India and unveil a foundation stone for 1095 MW Punatsangchu-1 hydroelectric project (P-1HP), which is under construction.

He will meet the Bhutanese prime minister, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley. “Moving forward under a democratic dispensation, what better moment for the leaders of the two democracies – Bhutan, an emerging democracy, and India, an established one - to put their minds together and try to develop some kind of a vision for the coming decades?” said the Ambassador.

The two governments will discuss a broad agenda that will include Bhutan’s 10th Plan. It is likely that the government of India will announce an indicative amount of assistance for the 10th Plan period. “It is really a reaffirmation of our relationship and a look towards the future,” Ambassador Vyas told Kuensel. “It has always been a our approach to align our cooperation efforts with Bhutan’s own priorities and its own chosen direction of development. And that will be the guiding principle on which our cooperation will be based.”

As Bhutan’s main development partner, India provides assistance for nearly all sections of socio-development, particularly for hydropower development. With the Chukha project, the Kurichu project, and Tala project completed, Bhutan produces about 1,500 MW of hydropower and the power projects are the main sources of national revenue.

Dr Manmohan Singh will be the fifth Indian prime minister to visit Bhutan. Prime minister Nehru’s visit was followed by Mrs Indira Gandhi in 1968, during which the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway was inaugurated. She was again in Bhutan in 1972 for the cremation of the third Druk Gyalpo. Mr Rajiv Gandhi visited Bhutan in 1985, and 1988. Mr Narasimha Rao visited Bhutan in 1993.

The prime minister will be accompanied by the national security advisor, Mr M K Narayanan, his principal secretary, Mr T K Nair, foreign secretary, Mr Shivshankar Menon, and other senior officials.

Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley said that, apart from the fact that it was the golden jubilee anniversary of Prime Minister Nehru’s visit, Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit was particularly significant because he was the first head of government to visit Bhutan after the establishment of democracy. He said that India had reason to be satisfied and proud of Bhutan’s successful transition from Monarchy to a full-fledged democracy because, as the closest friend and neighbour, it had supported and encouraged His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo during the transition process.

Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley said that the Indian prime minister’s visit also coincided with the beginning of the 10th Plan, during which the DPT government intended to raise and engage in programmes and activities that would deepen the economic and trade relations between the two countries.

“We are particularly pleased and happy that we’re able to receive the prime minister of our best friend and neighbour to address the first joint sitting of the parliament,” he said. “The visit will give the new leadership in Bhutan, and myself in particular, the opportunity to discuss and share our perceptions on regional and global issues and create room for further collaboration.”

No comments: