Wednesday, 21 May 2008

A meeting of minds

21 May, 2008 - On May 17 the members of the National Council and the National Assembly stood up to offer a “silent ovation” in response to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s address to the Bhutanese people. It was a historic moment and the Indian prime minister was the first international figure to address Bhutan’s new parliament.

“The Indian prime minister’s visit to Bhutan has given me and our new government tremendous confidence that we will be able to fulfill the high expectations with which we have been voted into power,” said the prime minister, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley. “India’s commitment for the next five years was beyond our expectations. Our government has been assured that India will continue to support Bhutan just as it has over the years and, in fact, we can expect continued and even greater support as a democracy.”

“It was such an opportunity to have been able to receive the prime minister of India, our most important development partner, as our democratically elected government starts work,” added Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley, who is scheduled to visit India some time at the end of July. “We share the same perceptions and we indeed have a common destiny with the same ideals and same perceptions on global issues and challenges.”

Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bhutan was widely covered by the Indian media, which focused on the prime minister’s pledge of Rs 100 billion for “economic engagement” with Bhutan.

The Indian prime minister said that India was a friend and admirer of Bhutan. “As Bhutan enters a new era in its history, you can continue to count on India … to stand by you as a factor of stability in your quest for greater prosperity and happiness,” he said in a televised address to the Bhutanese people.

Bhutan had witnessed unprecedented social and economic development during the reign of the fourth Druk Gyalpo, the architect of Bhutan’s constitution and polity, said the prime minister and “today, His Majesty’s vision of vesting sovereignty in the people of Bhutan has borne fruit”.

He reminded the Bhutanese parliament that democracy was not merely about holding elections. “Democracy requires sustained commitment to tolerance and the judicious exercise of power as a societal trust to be used for public good. It requires a deep commitment to the rule of law. It requires the building of strong institutions of governance and respect for the other’s viewpoint.”

“As we enter a new era in our ties and a new century, I come to seek and reinforce the same meetings of minds, the same depth of understanding and the same confluence of thoughts and aspirations, that have characterized our relations thus far, to guide us in the future,” said Dr. Manmohan Singh. “As partners, confident in our friendship and mutual security, we will work together to make our friendships gain added strength with the passage of time.”

Dr. Manmohan Singh pointed out that, over the past four decades and more, the two countries had worked closely in the process of Bhutan’s planned development. “We remain committed to working with Bhutan in support of the 10th five-year plan (FYP),” he said. “This period will lay the building blocks for Bhutan’s development and support your vision for tomorrow. We will develop our cooperation during the 10th plan with imagination and flexibility, in accordance with your priorities in human resource development, education, information and communication technologies, health, infrastructure and numerous other fields.”

“We know we are on the right path when electricity generated in the mountains and valleys of Chukha, Kurichu and Tala lights homes in Bihar, West Bengal and Delhi and generates wealth for Bhutan,” he added.

India’s ambassador to Bhutan, Mr Sudhir Vyas, told Kuensel that the prime minister had put his own thought processes and his own vision into his words. “It was framed with a vision,” he said. “He has a sense of the Indo-Bhutan relationship and he tried to communicate that with the parliament.”

The visit was a historic milestone in Indo-Bhutan relations and it captured and reflected the ethos of the bilateral relationship, said Mr Vyas. “The prime minister was received by goodwill and warmth wherever he went. There were many gestures along the way. He stopped to meet children; the children responded so beautifully. At every event, the warmth and goodwill was so evident.”

The prime minister’s audiences with Their Majesties, his discussions and meetings with the prime minister, saw the same identity of thought, the same commonality of vision, and the determination to raise this bilateral relationship to its fullest potential, said the ambassador.

“It’s extraordinary the way the thinking of leadership of Bhutan and India came together to develop their vision for the future,” he told Kuensel. “As ambassador, I would say that I’m incredibly encouraged by the visit, by the discussions that took place, by the whole atmosphere in which the visit took place, and by the goodwill … all the signals are very very positive. The whole visit radiated positive energy and I feel very encouraged for the future of our bilateral relationship.”

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