Modi has put his best foot forward
The Prime Minister’s maiden foreign trip has struck the right notes with everyone and has also fuelled the engines of new diplomatic dynamics and energies. His two-day visit to Bhutan isn’t only a symbolic show of strength and neighbourly comity towards the smaller, loyal nation; it is equally a worthy preamble to his long-term vision of redrawing the map of global economic and political affinities, this time with a sharp preference for the East over the hackneyed and tired assurances of the West.
The warm welcome and the rolling-out of the red carpet was of course inevitable, but Narendra Modi in Bhutan is more than the big brother from the bigger country. Given the cordial exchange of pleasantries with Bhutanese PM Tshering Tobgay at the swearing-in ceremony on 26 May, the strategic choice of visiting Bhutan first also cements the existing good ties with a top layer of diplomatic niceties that would go a long way in ensuring Thimphu’s allegiance towards New Delhi in times good and bad. In addition, the intent to strengthen the SAARC and make it more than a regional bloc has been made more than clear by Modi’s ample overtures, thus paving the way towards inclusive and holistic developmental cooperation, as emphasised by the Indian premier’s calling for better B2B – Bharat to Bhutan – relations.
From providing scholarships to Bhutanese students to enhancing trade ties, Thimphu’s geostrategic relevance would only go up in the months to come. Although they have only the best compliments for the new dispensation at the centre in India, China has been fickle in the past, and Modi government, likewise, has sounded both the optimistic and cautionary note vis-à-vis brooking Beijing. Since China has expressed interest in upgrading its diplomatic ties with Bhutan, Modi has done well to go ahead and assure it of complete support. Even in the past, Bhutan had shown unwavering loyalty towards India when it conducted Operation All Clear in December 2003 to wipe out anti-India insurgents and aid New Delhi in tackling cross-border infiltration from Nepal and Tibet better.
The Bhutan visit marks the first outpost in Modi’s long and daring diplomatic tournament, which has Japan, Brazil next in line. In a classic reversal of fortunes, Modi agreed to visit the US only to attend the United Nations General Assembly in the UN headquarters in New York in September this year, and only after the Obama administration sent out a number of invites to woo the new Indian PM. Keep it up, we say.