Though Bhutan visit is imminent for every Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi’s choice to go to the Himalayan nation comes as a pleasant surprise for many while the Western nations take it as another signal of India’s long-term foreign policy to keep regional balance strictly under its favour.
Today, Sunday June 15, 2014 marks Modi’s first sojourn abroad technically begins with his arrival at Thimpu, overlooking the Chinese border, sending a signal to China and Nepal in the Himalayan region that India seeks status quo, if not rattle the border map in the near future.
The tiny Himalayan and Buddhist nation, is the closest Indian ally receiving huge sunsidies in the form of food and oil supplies, while China is busy making inroads into Sri Lanka with building ports after its successful enlisting of pertinent Pakistan support in the Himalayan region.
With Nepal moving closer to China whose aid made it the biggest foreign investor within the first six months of this year.
To counter the regional balance moving close to China, Modi invited all the neighbours to his inauguration and is now set to set his foot on Bhutan soil.
The visit will see Modi lay the foundation of a 600 MW hydroelectric power station in Bhutan and open the nation’s parliament building constructed by India.
“Bhutan and India share a very special relationship that has stood the test of time,” said a statement prior to his departure for Thimphu. “Thus, Bhutan was a natural choice for my first visit abroad.”
While giant portraits of Modi and his Bhutanese counterpart, Tshering Tobgay, strung up along the roads, school children were roped in to welcome Modi along the road from the airport to Thimphu. “Given that India has so many competing priorities and that the newly elected prime minister could have visited any other country, it did come as a pleasant surprise,” Tobgay told The Hindu.
Bhutan, with a population of 750,000 and an area similar to the size of Switzerland, has poor infrastructure. Its mountain road was first built in 1962 and its TV came in 1999 when it began transition from the kingdom to a democratic nation. A decade later, it became the democratically elected republic but high unemployment and virtually no natural resources began plaguing its youth who moved to India or the United Kingdom.
With its current campaign for the happiness index, the nation says it should strive to remove obstacles to happiness.
Here is a timeline of India-Bhutan Relations:
1910 – British India signs treaty with Bhutan to oversee the Himalayan Kingdom’s foreign relations.
1949 – Independent India signs treaty guaranteeing non-interference in Bhutan’s internal affairs, but allowing Delhi influence over foreign relations.
1952 – Reformist monarch Jigme Dorji Wangchuck takes over and the National Assembly set up.
1958 – Slavery abolished.
1959 – Thousands of Tibetan refugees given asylum, as India hosts Dalai Lama.
1965 – Prime minister killed in row over bid to kill the monarch.
1968 – First cabinet established.
1971 – Bhutan joins United Nations.
1972 – A new trade agreement provides exemption from export duties for goods from Bhutan to third countries.
1979 – Bhutan votes with China on Cambodia’s seat to be given to Khmer Rouge in Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
1998 – King cedes some powers; cabinet now elected by assembly;
1999 – Limited television and internet services allowed;
2000 – First internet cafe opens in Thimphu;
2002 – Assamese rebel groups set up camps in Bhutan.
2003 – Bhutanese soldiers fight Indian separatist rebels to drive them away.
2007 – Bhutan signs a landmark agreement with India which revises ties with its neighbour, giving Bhutan more say over its foreign and defence policies.
2013 – Parliamentary elections allow opposition People’s Democratic Party win 32 seats against 15 won by the opposition Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party.
2007 – India re-negotiated the 1949 treaty and signs a new treaty of friendship that gives Bhutan freedom in its foreign policy without India’s guidance.
2013 – India discontinues oil supplies unders subsidized rates triggering pre-poll campaign go in favour of parties which want close ties with India, though the supplies of gas and petrol were resumed in August.
2014 – Modi visits Thimpu, his first foreign visit after assuming office on June 15.