Thimphu: Bharat to Bhutan ties got a major fillip as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared his intent to expand "B2B" relations on his maiden visit abroad to the neighbouring Himalayan country with which India shares long-standing close and friendly ties.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Pic: AFP
Modi, who chose Bhutan as his first port of call to stress the importance accorded to the neighbourhood in the new government's foreign policy, described relations between the two countries as "B2B" or "Bharat to Bhutan" ties.
He expressed satisfaction at India being considered a privileged partner of Bhutan and stressed that his government "would not only nurture these strong bonds, but would also strengthen them", according to sources who briefed the media on the talks he held with his Bhutanese counterpart Tshering Tobgay.
Modi also called on Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and invited the royal couple to visit India.
"The primary focus of both the meetings was the extensive development cooperation between the two countries and measures to enhance the economic ties," said the sources.
Earlier, after he flew in to Thimphu, Modi was given a rousing welcome with hundreds of children lined along the route to cheer him, waving flags of both the countries. He was received at the Paro airport by Prime Minister Tobgay who greeted him in the traditional Bhutanese style by draping a khada around his neck.
The Indian prime minister was driven in a huge convoy amid tight security to the capital city. Several welcome arches with cutouts of Modi and Tobgay added to the festival-like atmosphere.
One arch proclaied: "Bhutan takes pleasure welcoming our close friend Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi". Another was dedicated to "Bhutan and India - a shining testimony of bilateral relations".
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh have accompanied Modi.
Modi emphasised the possibilities of greater educational contacts and suggested doubling the scholarships being provided to Bhutanese students in India and promised assistance in setting up a digital library which will provide Bhutanese youth access to two million books and periodicals.
Modi's visit comes ahead of bilateral talks between Bhutan and China that are slated for later this year. China, which shares a 500 km border with Bhutan, is keen to set up an embassy in Thimphu.
During the banquet hosted by Tobgay, Modi raised a toast for peace, prosperity and progress of India and Bhutan friendship.
"Our language may be different but our emotions are same," he said.
"A friend like India can also be an important measure for the Happiness Index. Bharat and Bhutan are made for each other," said Modi. He also expressed gratitude for the warm welcome he was accorded.
In his pre-departure statement in New Delhi, Modi described Bhutan as a "natural choice" for his maiden visit abroad, and said relations with the neighbouring nation would be a key foreign policy priority of his government.
Modi said India is "committed to continuing our unstinted support to Bhutan in its development efforts. I will review with the Bhutanese leadership our development cooperation programme to make it even more effective and responsive to the changing aspirations of the people of Bhutan".
India is involved in building schools, libraries, drinking water projects, and community centres in Bhutan, a crucial northern neighbour of just 750,000 peace-loving people. India's assistance package to Bhutan comprises Rs.4,500 crore for its 11th five-year plan from 2013 to 2018.
India is also involved in building several hydropower projects in Bhutan, which New Delhi has described as a "win-win" situation as they "generate export revenues for Bhutan, cement our economic partnership, and provide clean and low-cost electricity to India".
According to an editorial in The Bhutanese daily, bilateral ties "have not only been rooted in sentimentality and friendship, but in a lot of practical realism which has benefitted both countries. Though it is in early days, all signs, at the moment, indicate that Modi, the ultimate realist, will bring in more dynamism, substance and strength into the relationship between the two countries".
On Monday, Modi will call on former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, a close friend of India, and address a joint sitting of the third session of the second parliament of Bhutan.Later, he will unveil the foundation stone of the 600 megawatt Kholongchu hydropower project, a joint venture model between Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam and Druk Green Power Corporation. Construction on the project is expected to start later this year.
The Bhutan king will then host a lunch in honour of the Prime Minister Modi and his delegation, before they depart from Thimphu.