Editorial – March 25, 2024

Editorial – March 25, 2024

Editorial – March 25, 2024

Title: Unbreakable: On India-Bhutan ties

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bhutan last week, while productive, was largely symbolic. Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay’s lengthy bilateral with Mr. Modi a week earlier in Delhi, obviated the need for such a second back-to-back visit.

The announcement of India’s doubling of support for Bhutan’s Five Year Plan, from ₹5,000 crore to ₹10,000 crore, was significant, but has been under discussion, and could have been made later, post the elections as well. The highlight of the visit, of Bhutan’s King conferring Bhutan’s highest civilian award on Mr. Modi, had been announced in 2021 for India’s support during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also need not have been done right now.

The fact that Mr. Modi went ahead with the visit, despite India’s electoral Model Code of Conduct in place, his campaign schedule, and inclement weather in Bhutan nearly derailing the programme, indicates how important it was. The symbolic messaging was three-fold: first, that India is fully committed to Bhutan’s development, particularly the upcoming Gelephu Mindfulness City, a project likely to benefit from India’s increase in financial support to its neighbour.

Second, Bhutan is an integral part of India’s infrastructure initiatives for road, rail, integrated check points, and also for energy exchanges on India’s grid, both of which are pushing sub-regional trade and travel among India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Third, that India is mindful of Bhutan’s increased engagement with China, for the boundary agreement they hope to forge soon, but that it does not intend to give Beijing space in areas of engagement such as trade and investment, where China has made inroads with India’s other close neighbours.

As a result, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra may have feigned disinterest when he brushed aside a question on the China-Bhutan boundary talks, but they are important.

China-Bhutan talks about the possible swap of land at Doklam to Bhutan’s west are, in fact, seen as a threat to India’s Siliguri Corridor, whereas China’s claim to areas on Bhutan’s east could imperil India’s border connectivity projects in Arunachal Pradesh.

Recent reports, which the Ministry of External Affairs has not denied, indicate that Bhutan may have even asked India to go slow on those projects until its boundary talks with China are complete. As a result, the most important message from Mr. Modi’s sojourn was one of a united front at a time of change. Accepting his award, Mr. Modi called India-Bhutan ties “unbreakable”.

India and Bhutan will need to emphasise that lock-step even more in the days ahead to retain the permanence of their ties in the face of economic and social turmoil within their countries, as well as the challenge in the neighbourhood.

Meaning of the important words

WordsMeaning
symbolicmeaning refers to the significance or representation of something beyond its literal interpretation.
obviatedIt means to eliminate or avoid something, typically a problem, difficulty, or need, by taking effective action in advance.
derailingtypically refers to causing something to veer off course or deviate from its intended direction or purpose. T
mindfulis an adjective that describes being attentive, aware, and conscious of one’s thoughts, feelings, actions, and surroundings in the present moment.
feignedis an adjective that describes something that is simulated, pretended, or not genuine.
emphasiseis a verb that means to give special importance, attention, or prominence to something.
permanencerefers to the quality or state of being permanent, enduring, or lasting indefinitely. It describes something that remains unchanged or continues to exist over a long period of time without alteration or cessation.

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