Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday night that having a good neighbour is important for a country’s happiness and, in its absence, a nation cannot live in peace despite prosperity.
In comments that appeared directed at China and Pakistan, he also reminded Bhutan that one of the factors responsible for its happiness was a good neighbour like India.
“In the guarantee of happiness, it is important what kind of a neighbour you get. Sometimes you get such a neighbour that in spite of having all the happiness and prosperity, you cannot live in peace,” Modi said speaking at a banquet hosted by Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.
Modi arrived in Bhutan earlier in the day for a two-day visit, his first foreign halt after taking over as the PM. He was accompanied by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.
Speaking at the banquet, Modi reassured Bhutan about continued special treatment by India despite the change of government in Delhi, and said India was committed to the country’s happiness and progress. The assurance assumes significance as China has been trying to win over Bhutan recently.
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Modi identified peace, security, conservation and tourism as focus areas for strengthening ties.
Modi said India and Bhutan were “made for each other” considering the “glorious” traditional linkages between the two countries. “I said a while back B4B. I said it just like that, but later I realised that it must be a sign from God that I said this,” the PM said.
Modi had made the reference during wide-ranging talks with Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and PM Tobgay, saying he vowed to nurture bilateral “B4B” relations — “Bharat for Bhutan and Bhutan for Bharat”. “The primary focus of both the meetings was the extensive development cooperation between the two countries and measures to enhance economic ties,” official sources said.
Referring to Bhutan’s unique trait of laying thrust on ‘Gross National Happiness’ rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Modi said: “Bhutan’s parameters of happiness — among them, one is having a friend like India. It is an important parameter for happiness. Because we know what are benefits of neighbours and what are problems of neighbours. That is why, being a good neighbour is a big reason for happiness and it gives a chance for progress.”
The PM underlined that India and Bhutan share not only land boundary but also “glorious cultural traditions”. “The colour of our passports may be different but our thinking is the same… India stands committed to Bhutan’s happiness and progress. India is with Bhutan, with its success, its happiness, and will continue to be with Bhutan. Governments might have changed in India, but we need to continue the cultural legacy and tradition of peace. To make the relationship between India and Bhutan stronger is our responsibility.”
Modi added: “To make ties stronger, we have to change the spectrum of that growth. In a limited spectrum, relationships are made on the basis of ‘rupiya’, ‘paisa’, but there is a lot more to relationships than this.”
Modi commended the Bhutanese King and government for ensuring the country’s progress and said India will continue to contribute to this.
Earlier in the day, Modi inaugurated the Bhutanese Supreme Court building, which was built by India at a cost of around Rs 70 crore, a gesture hailed by the Bhutanese Chief Justice as a “symbol of generosity”.
The PM also announced doubling of scholarships being provided to Bhutanese students in India, which will now be worth Rs 2 crore, as well as assistance to Bhutan to set up a digital library.
During his meeting with the Bhutanese King, lasting nearly an hour, Modi invited him and his wife Jetsun Pema to visit India.
In his statement before departure to Thimphu, Modi said Bhutan was a “natural choice” as his first foreign destination because of the “unique and special relationship” between Delhi and Thimphu. He also said relations with Bhutan will be a key foreign policy priority of his government and he would focus on making development cooperation with the neighbouring country “more effective”.
Bhutanese PM Tobgay told The Bhutanese newspaper before Modi’s arrival that he was a “friendly” person and “obviously very knowledgable and well-disposed towards Bhutan”. “He is very aware of the details of the India-Bhutan relationship and overall gives a sense of purpose and hope,” Tobgay said.
Modi was received at the Paro airport by Tobgay and several of his Cabinet colleagues. He drove from Paro to Thimphu, a distance of 50 km, along a road with several hoardings welcoming him.
Later, Modi was given a ceremonial welcome and a guard of honour as he arrived to see the King. While heavy rain just before his arrival led to concerns that the ceremony to be held in an open court of the palace would get affected, the weather cleared up just in time.
Talking about the grand reception he had got, Modi said it will go down well. “I will remember this all my life.”
(With PTI inputs)