On his first visit to Bhutan since re-election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with the country’s leaders to further deepen the bilateral ties. The visit to Bhutan is also Modi's first since the Doka La tri-junction military face-off in 2017 that led to heightened tensions between India and China after Chinese troops intruded into disputed territory between China and Bhutan.
“Thank you, Bhutan! It was a memorable visit. The affection I have received from the people of this wonderful nation can never be forgotten.” Modi tweeted just before his departure from Bhutan.
Thank you Bhutan!
It was a memorable visit. The affection I have received from the people of this wonderful nation can never be forgotten.
There were many programmes which I had the honour of taking part in.
The outcomes of the visit will enhance bilateral ties. pic.twitter.com/325NGWZifb
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 18, 2019
Before his departure to Bhutan on Friday, the prime minister had said that India-Bhutan partnership forms an important pillar of New Delhi's 'Neighbourhood First' policy and expressed confidence that his two-day trip will promote the time-tested ties between the two countries.
Day 1 of visit
On 17 August (Saturday), Modi arrived in Bhutan and was received by his Bhutanese counterpart Dr Lotay Tshering and others on his arrival at the Paro International airport.
Reached Bhutan a short while ago, marking the start of an important visit. I am extremely grateful to @PMBhutan for welcoming me at the airport. His gesture is deeply touching. pic.twitter.com/75EYI4ItTz
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 17, 2019
Raveesh Kumar, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs tweeted out some photos of the welcome ceremony held at the Tashichhodzong Palace for Modi.
Traditional Chipdrel procession and welcome ceremony at the Tashichhodzong Palace for PM @narendramodi before the audience with His Majesty the King of Bhutan. The ceremony symbolises the purification of path along which the guests are led. pic.twitter.com/RVYg2QqJEP
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) August 17, 2019
Modi received a red carpet welcome at the Paro airport where he was received by the Bhutanese prime minister. Waving the Indian tricolour and the Bhutanese flags, people lined up along the route from Paro to the capital city Thimphu to welcome the prime minister.
10 MoUs signed
On the first day of the visit, both prime ministers held wide-ranging talks during which they discussed steps to further expand the bilateral partnership across several sectors as the two nations signed 10 Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) to infuse new energy in their ties.
"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," the prime minister said.
The two countries signed 10 MoUs in the field of space research, aviation, information and technology (IT), power and education.
RuPay in Bhutan
Modi also launched the RuPay 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 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," Modi said.
On increasing the currency swap limit for Bhutan under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) currency swap framework, Modi said India's approach is "positive". He said an additional 100 million dollars will be available to Bhutan under a standby swap arrangement to meet the foreign exchange requirement.
The two leaders also unveiled an e-plaque of the interconnection between India's National Knowledge Network and Bhutan's Druk Research and Education Network.
"It is a privilege for India to be a major partner in the development of Bhutan. India's cooperation in Bhutan's five-year plans will continue," he said.
Inauguration of Ground Earth Station and SATCOM
The two leaders jointly inaugurated the Ground Earth Station and SATCOM network, developed with assistance from Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for utilisation of the South Asia Satellite in Bhutan.
Modi said India is committed to facilitating Bhutan's development through the use of space technology. India will enhance the communication, public broadcasting and disaster management coverage in Bhutan, he said.
He said the collaboration and relationship between the Royal University of Bhutan and IITs of India and some other top educational institutions are in line with today's requirements for education and technology.
"I believe that India and Bhutan will remain a unique model of relations between two countries in the world," he said.
Towards this, at least seven of the ten MoUs signed between the two nations were in the field of education. Four MoUs on enhancement of Academic Exchanges and STEM cooperation between the Royal University of Bhutan, and IITs at Kanpur, Delhi and Mumbai and NIT Silchar were signed.
A MoU between National Law School of India University, Bangalore and Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law, Thimphu on enhancing relations between the two parties in the areas of legal education and research and a MoU between Bhutan National Legal Institute and National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, on cooperation in judicial education and mutual exchanges were signed on Saturday.
Meanwhile 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 also planted a sapling at Simtokha Dzong. and also met the former King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
Amongst other things, India has made the commitment to give Rs 5,000 crore to Bhutan as development assistance for its 12th five-year plan, which began earlier this year. The first tranche of funds for the plan has already been released by New Delhi.
Day 2 of visit
Narendra Modi on Sunday, the second day of his visit, outlined a new blueprint for cooperation between the two countries, identifying space, education, and health as areas that would add a new dimension to ties dominated so far by cooperation in the hydel power sector.
Lauding the country for its concept of 'Gross National Happiness', Modi addressed students from Royal University of Bhutan and said that the two neighbours had "unique and deep" bonds.
Modi's address to Royal University of Bhutan's students
"It is natural that the people of Bhutan and India experience great attachment to each other because we are close not just due to our geography. Our history, culture and spiritual traditions have created unique and deep bonds between our peoples and nations," Modi said in his address.
Modi also listed India's achievements and said that India was "home to among the biggest start-up ecosystems in the world". "This is a great time to innovate in India!" he said.
He added, "Today, India is witnessing historic transformations in a wide range of sectors. We are eliminating poverty faster than ever before. The pace of infrastructure construction has doubled in the last five years. India is also home to the world’s largest healthcare programme, Ayushman Bharat that offers health assurance to 500 million Indians.
"These, and many other transformations have dreams and aspirations of the youth of India at their core."
PM Narendra Modi in Thimpu: It is natural that the people of Bhutan and India experience great attachment to each other, as we are close not just due to our geography. Our history, culture and spiritual traditions have created unique and deep bonds between our peoples and nations pic.twitter.com/MSKn0WfJp9
— ANI (@ANI) August 18, 2019
Modi also referred to his book Exam Warriors and said that he had been influenced by the teachings of Gautama Buddha. "Much of what I wrote in Exam Warriors is influenced by the teachings of Lord Buddha, especially the importance of positivity, overcoming fear and living in oneness, be it with the present moment or with Mother Nature," he said.
Since Exam Warriors was talked about at the Royal University of Bhutan, shared a secret about the book and how Bhutan’s youth will actively contribute to a better planet. pic.twitter.com/K4F2xDezeG
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 18, 2019
Hailing the "relationship" between the two neighbours, which saw the signing of ten memorandums of understanding between Modi and Bhutan prime minister Lotay Tshering, Modi said that India and Bhutan were cooperating "extensively" on "new frontiers".
While both the countries are dedicated to traditional areas of cooperation like hydropower, New Delhi and Thimphu had agreed to focus on newer fields of bilateral ties like education, health and space, to name a few, on the first day of the Prime Minister's visit.
"Going beyond the traditional sectors of cooperation, we are seeking to cooperate extensively in new frontiers, from schools to space, digital payments to disaster management. We inaugurated the Thimphu Ground Station of the South Asia Satellite and expanded our space cooperation," he said.
Modi added, "Through satellites, benefits of telemedicine, distance education, resource mapping, weather forecast and even warning of natural disasters and reach even remote areas. It is even a matter of great happiness that young Bhutanese scientists will travel to India to work on designing and launching Bhutan’s own small satellite."
Gross National Happiness
He also said that it was "not surprising" that Bhutan was known world-over for its concept of "Gross National Happiness". "Bhutan has understood the essence of happiness," he said.
Encouraging the students to go beyond any limitations, he said, "I want to tell you all — there is no better time to be young than now. The world today offers more opportunities than ever before. You have the power and potential to do extraordinary things, which will impact generations to come," Modi added.
"Happiness, which shall prevail over mindless hate. If people are happy, there will be harmony. Where there is harmony, there will be peace. And you need peace that will help society... progress to sustainable development," he added, outlining how the world has much to learn from Bhutan.
A joint statement issued after Modi’s return from Bhutan said: “Both sides committed themselves to further strengthen their engagement in the traditional areas of co-operation, as well as to expand collaboration in new and emerging areas with special emphasis on greater exchanges between the youth of India and Bhutan."
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Aug 19, 2019 13:39:25 IST