Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two day visit to Thimphu affirmed India's Neighbourhood First’ policy and a long-standing tradition between India and Bhutan. He received a red-carpet welcome at the Paro airport where he was received by the Bhutanese prime minister and received a guard of honour at the Tashichhoedzong Palace before the King. Modi was on his second visit to Bhutan and the first since his re-election in May 2019. “I am very happy to come to Bhutan at the beginning of my second term,” Modi said in a joint press statement after delegation-level talks with his Bhutanese counterpart at the historic Simtokha Dzong.
On his part, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said India and Bhutan may vary in size but their beliefs, values and motivation are common. “On his (Modi) first visit to Bhutan, I remember him saying that Bhutan and India are close not because we have open borders, but because we have opened our hearts to each other. Your visit this time shows how much you meant it,” he said.
Modi held wide-ranging talks with his Bhutanese counterpart Tshering to further energise ties and declared that India was honoured to have a friend like Bhutan. The two countries signed 10 MoUs after the talks in the field of space research, aviation, IT, power and education. “We had a comprehensive meeting, where we deliberated on the relations between India and Bhutan. There is great scope to further improve economic and cultural ties between our nations,” Prime Minister Modi said. He inaugurated the 740 MW Mangdechhu hydroelectric power plant and also launched stamps to commemorate five decades of India-Bhutan hydro power cooperation. “Today, we have achieved another historic milestone of this journey with the inauguration of the Mangdechhu project. With the cooperation of both countries, hydro-power generation capacity in Bhutan has crossed 2,000 MW. I am confident that we will also take other projects forward very fast,” he said.
PM Modi also inaugurated the Thimphu Ground Station of the South Asia Satellite. “Through satellites, benefits of tele medicine, distance education, resource mapping, weather forecast & even warning of natural disasters reach even remote areas,” he said in a tweet. Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) GSAT-9 communications satellite, popularly known as the South Asia Satellite, launched in 2017 was envisaged as India’s gift to its neighbours to increase regional cooperation by leveraging the country’s position as a space power.
RuPay Card in Bhutan
The PM also launched Ru-Pay Card in Bhutan by making a purchase at Simtokha Dzong, built in 1629 by Shabdrung Namgyal, which functions as a monastic and administrative centre and is one of the oldest dzongs (fortified building) in Bhutan. “I am very happy that today we have launched RuPay card in Bhutan. This will further enhance our relationship in digital payments, and trade and tourism. Our shared spiritual heritage and strong people-to-people relationship are key of our relations,” the PM said.
On increasing the currency swap limit for Bhutan under the SAARC currency swap framework, Modi said India’s approach was “positive”. He said an additional $100 million will be available to Bhutan under a standby swap arrangement to meet the foreign exchange requirement.
PM address at Bhutan univ
PM Modi concluded his visit to Bhutan addressing the students of the Royal University describing India and Bhutan as “natural partners”. Modi said the world had a lot to learn from Bhutan where development, environment and culture are not at loggerheads but in synergy. “In any part of the world, if we ask the question what do you associate with Bhutan, the answer will be the concept of Gross National Happiness. I am not surprised. Bhutan has understood the essence of happiness,” he said.
“India-Bhutan cooperation in hydro-power and energy is exemplary. But the real source of power and energy of this relationship are our people,” he said. This spirit is clearly seen in the outcomes of this visit, he added. Of the MOUs signed between the two sides the inauguration of the ground space station has been a focus of the Indian government.
Going beyond the traditional sectors of cooperation, the two countries are seeking to cooperate extensively in new frontiers, from schools to space, digital payments to disaster management, PM Modi said. “Democracy and education both aim to set us free. Neither can be complete without the other. And both help us to achieve our fullest potential, and be the best we can,” he said.