Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday embarked on a visit to Bhutan, his first foreign destination since he took over, with a focus on making development cooperation with the neighbouring country "more effective".
Ahead of his visit, Modi said Bhutan was a "natural choice" as his first foreign destination because of the "unique and special relationship".
He is accompanied by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh. He will meet Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay during his two-day visit which will see the two sides exploring ways to boost their ties, particularly in trade and hydro-electricity.
Modi will also address the joint session of the Parliament of Bhutan. He will also inaugurate one of India's assistance projects – the building of the Supreme Court of Bhutan.
The fact that the prime minister chose Bhutan as his first foreign destination assumes significance since China has lately intensified efforts to woo it and establish full- fledged diplomatic ties with Thimphu.
In his pre-departure statement, Modi said relations with Bhutan will be a key foreign policy priority of his government. "I am looking forward to my first-ever visit to Bhutan and to nurturing and further strengthening India's special relations with Bhutan," said Modi before undertaking the two-day trip at the invitation of Bhutan's King and the prime minister.
"Our relations with Bhutan are unique and especially warm. Our historical and cultural linkages make us natural friends and partners," the Foreign Secretary told a press conference in Delhi while giving details about the visit. "Bhutan is one of our most important strategic partners ....It is a very good country to show our policy of good neighbourliness in South Asia and special token of our friendship," she said explaining why Bhutan was chosen as the first foreign destination of Modi.
Modi said, "Bhutan and India share a very special relationship that has stood the test of time." He said Bhutan's peaceful and smooth transition to a democratic constitutional monarchy has been a success story... Its orderly conduct of elections is testimony to the consolidation of its democracy, in accordance with the wise vision of their Majesties."
The prime minister continued, "The government of India has been a privileged and leading partner of Bhutan in its socio-economic development... We rejoice in Bhutan's remarkable economic growth and its progress and prosperity. We are committed to continuing our unstinted support to Bhutan in its development efforts."
He said hydropower cooperation with Bhutan "is a classic example of win-win cooperation and a model for the entire region". During the visit, he will lay the foundation stone of the 600 MW Kholongchu hydropower project.
"People-to-people contact is an important aspect of our bilateral relations. I intend to discuss with the Bhutanese leadership how to further strengthen these contacts between our countries, particularly among the youth. In this regard, the role of educational links will be very important," he said.