Making Bhutan his first foreign destination, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday vowed to nurture bilateral relations which he described as “B2B – Bharat to Bhutan”, as he held talks with the Bhutanese King and the Premier, discussing an entire gamut of ties.
Embarking on a two-day trip here to display “special and unique” status for Bhutan in India’s foreign policy, Prime Minister Modi also inaugurated the Supreme Court complex built by India as part of the developmental cooperation.
“The primary focus of both the meetings was the extensive development cooperation between the two countries and measures to enhance the economic ties,” an official said.
Modi described the bilateral relations as “B2B relations – Bharat to Bhutan relations,” the sources said on his meeting with Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. He announced doubling of scholarships being provided to Bhutanese students in India which will now be worth Rs 2 crore.
Prime Minister Modi also promised to assist Bhutan in setting up a digital library which will provide access to Bhutanese youth to two million books and periodicals.
The fact that the Prime Minister chose Bhutan as his first foreign destination assumes significance since China has lately intensified efforts to woo it and establish full-fledged diplomatic ties with Thimphu.
Modi, accompanied by External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, was accorded a grand welcome as he arrived at the Paro airport and was received by Tobgay and several of his Cabinet colleagues.
The Bhutanese government rolled out the red carpet as Modi was given a ceremonial guard of honour.
The prime minister drove down from Paro to Thimphu, a distance of about 50 km, traversing through the picturesque mountainous ranges. Common people, including children, in colourful attire lined up most of the road between Paro and Thimphu, waving Indian and Bhutanese flags. Big hoardings carrying Modi’s photographs also could be seen en route.
Modi’s meeting with the King lasted nearly an hour and then he held talks with Tobgay.
Modi expressed satisfaction at India being considered a privileged partner of Bhutan and underlined that his government “would not only nurture these strong bonds but would also strengthen them.”
Prime Minister Modi emphasised on the possibilities of greater educational contacts and suggested doubling of scholarships being provided to Bhutanese students in India. Modi thanked the Bhutanese leadership for the warm welcome that had been arranged for him, saying this reflected the warmth in the bilateral relations.
“He applauded the personal efforts made in ensuring the success of his first visit outside India,” a source said.
During his meeting with the Bhutanese King, Prime Minister Modi invited him and his wife Jetsun Pema to visit India.
Sources described the meeting between the two as “very good”.
After the meeting, both the King and Prime Minister Modi posed for photographers while shaking hands. They were then joined by the King’s wife Pema and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for a photograph.
Before the meeting when Prime Minister Modi arrived at the palace, he was given a warm, ceremonial welcome with a traditional dance.
He was presented with the guard of honour at the palace and the national anthems of the two countries were played.
Just before Prime Minister Modi’s arrival at the palace, there was heavy rainfall which raised speculation whether the guard of honour conducted in an open court could be affected.
However, the rain stopped just in time for the ceremony to take place in grand style.
Ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s arrival, his Bhutanese counterpart heaped praise on him, saying the Indian leader was a friendly and very knowledgeable person.
“He is a friendly person and obviously very knowledgeable and well disposed towards Bhutan…He is very aware of the details of the India-Bhutan relationship and overall gives a sense of purpose and hope,” Tobgay said about the 63-year-old Indian leader.
Modi will address the joint session of the Parliament of Bhutan tomorrow.
In his pre-departure statement, Modi said relations with Bhutan will be a key foreign policy priority of his government.
India’s assistance package to Bhutan includes Rs 4,500 crore for the country’s 11th Five Year Plan from 2013-18 and covers areas from infrastructure and information and communication technology to health, agriculture, human resource development and tourism.
Bilateral trade amounted to Rs 6,830 crore in 2012 and education, media and tourism sectors hold good potential for enhanced cooperation in future.