Narendra Modi in Bhutan: Firming up the frontier

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets people who lined up to say goodbye, waving flags, on his way to the airport, in Thimphu on Monday.

By making Bhutan his first foreign visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demonstrated that firming up troubled or neglected relationships will be a major priority of his regime, a point emphasised by inviting the heads of all SAARC countries and Mauritius to his oath-taking ceremony on May 26. The other Himalayan country he is expected to visit in the near future is Nepal, where tentative dates have been set for August. From a geo-strategic perspective, the Prime Minister’s visit is a soft counter to China’s ambitions to enhance its engagement with Bhutan to full diplomatic status. Beijing is also actively engaged with Nepal.

As Prime Minister Modi slowly unveils his ambitions to economically link up with the entire Asian neighbourhood (including China and Japan) for collective development and prosperity, a new chapter in India’s economic revival may also unfold. Expectedly, all eyes are now on the forthcoming Union Budget.

With Bhutan, however, returns can be immediate, in sectors like hydropower, tourism, horticulture, education and agro-processing. Given its high unemployment and rising national debt, Bhutan is said to be keen on ICT and ICT enabled services. India has promised to expedite six hydropower projects, three of which are under construction; offered to double scholarships for Bhutanese students in India, and fast track an e-library of two million books and periodicals.

Narendra Modi’s urgency to visit Thimpu before its border talks with Beijing in July, aim at undoing the neglect of this vital country by the previous Congress-led government, which enabled Beijing to walk into the vacuum. China’s wishes to enter the Chumbi Valley by staking claims on Bhutan’s western boundary, which will impact the Siliguri corridor which is India’s sole access to its north-eastern states.

 

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