India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi today addressed a joint session of Parliament of Bhutan in Thimphu.
The prime minister said that in the last century or so, while the global trend has largely been of expansion and centralisation of power, Bhutan has been an exception. It laid the strong foundation for democracy, and has made the transition to a constitutionally established democracy.
The prime minister said 7 years was a short time in the history of a country’s democracy. But in this short time, the people of Bhutan have developed faith in the institutions of democracy. There has also been a change in government. This reflects the maturity and awareness of the people. Modi said India had also witnessed an election recently, and the people of India had voted for good governance and development.
Referring to the welcome remarks by Jigme Zangpo, Speaker of the National Assembly, that the stronger India is, the better it is for Bhutan, the prime minister said he agreed with the proposition. He added that the entire region, especially the SAARC countries, would benefit if India were prosperous. Only a strong, prosperous India could help alleviate the problems that its neighbours face, Modi said.
Speaking about India-Bhutan relations, the prime minister said it was based not just on administrative ties. He said both India and Bhutan had seen transitions of power, but the relationship had remained strong. This is because the relationship is based on a shared cultural heritage. “We have opened our hearts for each other,” Modi said, adding that leaderships may change, but these open hearts would not close, and the heritage that this relationship represented would be nurtured by future generations. India’s people and government were committed to it, he said.
Referring to the development that has been achieved in Bhutan despite the constraints imposed by nature, Modi said that in future many small countries across the world would treat this as a model. He said while the world talked of GDP, Bhutan talked of Gross National Happiness, and that was because the leadership was concerned about the last man in the queue.
Modi said the plans to harness Bhutan’s hydropower potential were not just about Bhutan’s economy, or meeting India’s energy needs, but a small contribution to the fight against global warming.
The prime minister also talked about the large contribution made for education in Bhutan’s budget, and said it reflected Bhutan’s investment in the future generations. He said India was keen to make a contribution to this cause. He said India would help set up an e-library in Bhutan, for the benefit of the youth, which would help them connect with the world. He said India would also double the scholarships that are being given to Bhutanese students.
Stating that India and Bhutan must think of how to take the relationship even further, Modi suggested that the Himalayan States of India, along with Bhutan, and perhaps Nepal, could hold a sports meet every year. He said connecting people through sports brought sportsman spirit, and that contributed to happiness.
The prime minister said India’s space technology could also be harnessed to help Bhutan develop even further.
Modi said people sometimes said the Himalayas separated us. But he thought the Himalayas united us, as they are a part of our common heritage. He said people on both sides of the Himalayas looked up to them as a source of strength. But the need of the hour is to study various aspects of the Himalayas. He said India had already set up a “National Action Plan for Climate Change”. He said a national mission for sustaining the Himalayan system could also be considered. He said India also wanted a central university for Himalayan studies to be established, and Bhutan would benefit a lot from it.
The prime minister said India and Bhutan could together form a holistic approach to tourism, and develop a circuit combining India’s North-Eastern states and Bhutan. He said, “Terrorism divides. Tourism unites,” and added that if Bhutan’s natural wealth and capabilities joined together, it would be a big invitation to the world.
The prime minister referred to a quote from the third King of Bhutan: “Like milk and water, India and Bhutan cannot be separated.” He said the friendship was everlasting, and based on shared cultural heritage. He also thanked the people of Bhutan for the warm welcome they had given him.
The vote of thanks was given by Sonam Kinga, Chairman of the National Council of Bhutan.