Manmohan to go to a democratic Bhutan in May

March 26th, 2008 - 12:55 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Manish Chand

New Delhi, March 26 (IANS) As Bhutan becomes the newest democracy in India’s neighbourhood after over 100 years of absolute monarchy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is readying to go to Thimphu in May - the first visit by an Indian prime minister to that country in more than a decade. “The prime minister will go to Bhutan in May. Dates are being worked out,” an official source told IANS.

If the scheduled April 10 Constituent Assembly polls in Nepal go well, the prime minister may combine a trip to Nepal with Bhutan in May, the source said.

The visit will focus on the forging of a more diversified and contemporary economic and energy partnership in tune with emerging realities in the new countries, the source said.

With the India-US civil nuclear deal slipping into political limbo, the visit of the prime minister to Bhutan is a part of the larger mission of diversifying the country’s energy basket as the Himalayan state has huge untapped potential in hydro-electricity.

According to a survey, Bhutan has the potential to produce 30,000 MW of hydropower. Even if half of this potential is tapped, it can go a long way in easing chronic power shortages in northern India.

The 1,020-MW Tala hydropower project at Chukha Dzongkhag in western Bhutan, the largest joint venture between India and the Druk kingdom, is a symbol of their collaboration in power generation.

The visit will also give the prime minister an insight into the democratic transformation of the nation of over 600,000 people that once relished its isolation and prided itself on measuring its wealth in terms of gross domestic happiness. P.V. Narasimha Rao was the last Indian prime minister to go to Thimphu - in 1993.

Celebrating Bhutan’s march towards “constitutional, democratic monarchy” as it held its first-ever poll Monday, India promised to “provide all possible assistance to the royal government of Bhutan during its period of transition”.

New Delhi was also all praise for the Bhutanese monarch. “His majesty’s personal guidance, meticulous planning and constant support throughout have contributed to the success of this historic enterprise,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement.

India has actively assisted the democratic transition of Bhutan, also called the Land of the Thunder Dragon, by training poll officials and setting up Bhutan’s Election Commission, as well as providing over $2 million in assistance, including electronic voting machines.

The prime minister’s visit to Bhutan will signal a renewed effort by the two neighbours to modernise their ties - a process that began in February last year when the 28-year-old King Jigme Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk came here to sign an updated treaty of friendship with India.

The new treaty, aimed at giving “a 21st century complexion” to bilateral ties, gave Bhutan, with which India shares a nearly 700-km-long border and which has been guided by New Delhi in its defence and foreign policies since 1949, more freedom in international diplomacy and non-lethal military purchases.

Manmohan Singh’s trip to Bhutan will also be the first bilateral visit by him to a neighbouring country with which India shares borders since he became prime minister four years ago.

In fact, from May onwards, India’s diplomatic energies will increasingly focus on its immediate neighbourhood. Manmohan Singh will go to Kandy in Sri Lanka to attend the 15th SAARC summit in July.

As a new government takes charge in Pakistan, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon is likely to travel to Islamabad to review the fourth round of composite dialogue between the two countries. This will be followed by a visit by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Islamabad in May.

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