Bhutan might be Modi's final foreign destination before Lok Sabha polls; here's what will be on agenda

The prime minister’s proposed visit to Thimphu will also be significant given Beijing’s bid to spread its tentacles in Bhutan.
nirban Bhaumik
Last Updated : 19 February 2024, 01:28 IST
Last Updated : 19 February 2024, 01:28 IST

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi may soon visit Bhutan and he is likely to use the tour – possibly the last to a foreign nation before the parliamentary polls – to highlight his government’s initiatives to enhance economic opportunities in the northeastern region of India through connectivity projects with the neighbouring country.

The prime minister is likely to pledge New Delhi’s support to Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s ambitious plan to build a ‘mindfulness city’ at Gelephu near his country’s border with Assam in northeastern India, sources in New Delhi told DH.

The bilateral connectivity projects, including a cross-border rail link between Kokrajhar in Assam and Gelephu in Bhutan, are likely to be on the agenda of Modi’s meetings with the King and the neighbouring country’s newly-elected Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay. New Delhi is also likely to commit its support to Thimphu’s plan to expand the airport in Gelephu.

Modi’s visit to Bhutan is likely to be the last foreign tour of his second term in the office of the prime minister, as the parliamentary elections are expected to take place in April and May. Bhutan was also his first foreign destination after he commenced his first term at the helm of the government of India in May 2014.

The prime minister’s proposed visit to Thimphu is also significant given Beijing’s bid to spread its tentacles in Bhutan. The progress in Beijing-Thimphu talks to settle China-Bhutan boundary disputes last year caused unease in New Delhi. China also moved to establish formal diplomatic relations with Bhutan.

The king of Bhutan on December 17 unveiled his plan to develop the “Gelephu Mindfulness City” as a Special Administrative Region in southern Bhutan, with a focus on mindfulness, sustainability, and harmony.

Thimphu has plans to develop it as the world’s first economic hub, where development and growth would co-exist in harmony with nature and mindfulness living, showcasing sustainable and value-driven urban development.

Wangchuck noted that the land connection from Gelephu or Samdrup Jongkhar through Assam and Northeast Indian states, to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore, was a vibrant economic corridor linking South Asia to Southeast Asia. He said that the “Gelephu Mindfulness City” project would take advantage of the proposed corridor and spur economic growth for Bhutan.

He had discussed the project with Modi during his last visit to New Delhi in the first week of November when he had also visited Assam.

With the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party keen to win most of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the northeastern states during the parliamentary polls, Modi is likely to use the visit to Bhutan to highlight his government’s initiatives to boost connectivity of the landlocked region with the neighbouring countries and spur economic growth.

Published 19 February 2024, 01:28 IST

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