As India prepares to welcome Bhutan’s new Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering to New Delhi later this month, it has assured the landlocked nation that it remains “firmly committed to partnering Bhutan in its quest to bring greater prosperity and happiness to its people”.
This assurance came from foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale while delivering the valedictory address at a two-day conference on ‘India-Bhutan Relations—The Road Ahead’ which concluded here on Tuesday.
Gokhale also reiterated New Delhi’s commitment that in partnering Bhutan it will ensure that “we respect the priorities of the people and the government of Bhutan”.
The conference was organised by the external affairs ministry backed think-tank, the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), and the Royal Institute of Governance and Strategic Studies, Bhutan.
Over two days, participants at the first ever conference of this kind spoke their minds in restricted sessions on issues covering a range of topics, including hydropower, economic cooperation and even climate change.
China, a country with whom Bhutan does not have diplomatic relations but has cordial ties, nevertheless, may be the elephant in the room. But both New Delhi and Thimphu take heart from the fact that bilateral relations are robust at present. Gokhale said the two countries “share very extraordinary ties of friendship and cooperation marked by mutual understanding, goodwill and respect for each other’s interests”.
On the inaugural day of the conference, Bhutanese ambassador to India. Major General V. Namgyel (retd) had had described bilateral relations as being “excellent”, adding that “there are no problems to be resolved”.
Ambassador Namgyel attributed the close ties to three factors—shared culture, geography and wise leadership. He also noted, “friendship with India is the cornerstone of Bhutan’s foreign policy” adding “it’s the most stable and problem free bilateral relationship in the region”.
While last year’s 72-day standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in Doklam did not come up at the conference, Namgyel did take note of the fact that India and Bhutan cooperate on matters of national security and do not allow the use of each other’s territory to harm each other’s interests.
The importance New Delhi attaches to Bhutan which has China as its northern neighbour also came to the fore with Gokhale stating: “At the heart of the India-Bhutan friendship is the belief that we have each other’s mutual interests at heart. We also have a vital stake in each other’s progress and well-being and in peace prosperity…”
Cooperation in the hydropower sector which forms one of the pillars of cooperation too was discussed at the conference. The foreign secretary while drawing attention to the “mutually beneficial cooperation” between the two countries said it “has been anchored in very remarkable cooperation in the energy sector”.
The 720 MW Mangdechhu hydropower project in central Bhutan is all set to be commissioned in the coming months for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi may travel to Bhutan. Negotiations for the per unit cost of electricity from this run-of-the-river project are learnt to be currently on.
Gokhale also expressed India’s keenness to enhance connectivity with Bhutan as part of its ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policy.
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