PM to embark on historic visit to Bhutan

May 15th, 2008 - 2:27 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, May 15 (IANS) Fifty years after Jawaharlal Nehru went to Bhutan on horseback, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will fly to Thimphu Friday on a two-day trip, the first by an Indian leader since the Himalayan kingdom embraced democracy this year. “We are attaching particular importance to the visit and the government of India considers it a singular honour that Dr Manmohan Singh has been asked to address the first joint session of the Bhutanese parliament,” India’s ambassador Sudhir Vyas told Kuensel, Bhutan’s official newspaper.

“Just as we had a meeting of minds in 1958 between the third King and Nehru, we are looking at developing a perspective for the future during this visit. It’s tremendously exciting and we are looking at it with enormous anticipation.”

Singh’s visit is specially memorable because his brief trip to the Land of the Thunder Dragon coincides when the kingdom is celebrating the centenary of the monarchy, the coronation of the fifth Druk Gyalpo, the adoption of the constitution, and the installation of the very first elected government.

Foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon mentioned that Singh’s trip will give an impetus to one of India’s major imports - electricity. He will dedicate the 1,020 MW Tala hydroelectric project, built with India’s assistance, and lay the foundation of the 1,095 MW Punatsangchhu hydroelectric project.

“Mutually beneficial development of water resources, particularly hydro-electric power, in Bhutan has been an important element in our bilateral relations,” said foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon ahead of the prime minister’s visit.

“All surplus power from the three commissioned hydro-electric projects in Bhutan is being sold to India.”

The two governments will discuss a broad agenda that will include Bhutan’s 10th Plan and it is likely that India will announce an indicative amount of assistance.

“There will be substantial Indian participation in the 10th plan. It is really a reaffirmation of our relationship and a look towards the future,” said Menon.

Singh will hold talks with the previous king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and his son and the present monarch, 28-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk. He will also meet his Bhutanese counterpart, Jigne Thinley, and discuss with him a host of issues, including India’s development cooperation with Bhutan.

India and Bhutan signed an updated treaty of friendship last year, which gave Thimphu, hitherto guided by New Delhi in its defence and foreign policies since 1949, more freedom in international diplomacy and non-lethal military purchases.

India is not only Bhutan’s main development partner but also its leading trade partner and has undertaken a slew of infrastructure development projects in Bhutan, which include building of roads in the mountainous nation of 700,000 people.

The prime minister will be accompanied by national security advisor, M.K. Narayanan, his principal secretary T.K. Nair, foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and other senior officials.

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