Thimphu, Aug 23 (IANS) Bhutanese Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, regarded highly by the people and top officials in the Himalayan country, on Thursday said that India and Bhutan enjoy “excellent and exemplary friendship”, anchored on “unwavering trust, goodwill, understanding and mutually beneficial cooperation”.
Wangchuck began her elaborate address by remembering India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whom she described as “a dear friend of Bhutan”, and led her nation in mourning his death. She was speaking on the opening day of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival.
She reflected on the journey of friendship and traced the “paths leaders and peoples of our two countries have undertaken together”.
“It is a matter of immense satisfaction and happiness for people of Bhutan and India that our two countries enjoy excellent and exemplary friendship — a friendship that is anchored on unwavering trust, goodwill, understanding and mutually beneficial cooperation,” said Wangchuck, who was educated at a reputed school in Darjeeling in India.
Wangchuck recalled that long before diplomatic relations were the norm, the pristine waters from the lofty Himalayas of Bhutan nurtured the Great Plains in India while spiritual nourishment from India enriched the verdant valleys in Bhutan.
She said that India and Bhutan share not just national boundaries but also history and civilization.
“Buddhism is perhaps, India’s greatest gift to humanity and to Bhutan… It is my belief that Buddhism – our shared spiritual heritage – is the unchanging constant in our age-old relationship,” she said.
Wangchuck recalled that Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the third King of Bhutan and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were the “chief architects” who laid the foundation of the Indo-Bhutan relations.
“Following Pandit Nehru’s visit, Bhutan came out of its policy of self-isolation and embarked on the process of planned development with the launching of the First Five Year Plan in 1961. The first two five-year plans were financed entirely by India. It was during this period that the first motorable roads, schools and hospitals were built in Bhutan.
“In the annals of Bhutan’s modern history, September 21, 1971 deserves a special mention. It was on this day that Bhutan was admitted as a member of the UN. I must recall with gratitude that it was our dear friend India who sponsored Bhutan’s membership to the UN,” she said.
Wangchuck maintained that this bond was carried forward by Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth king of Bhutan, who worked tirelessly with successive leaders from India and most notably with Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narisimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Wangchuck, an accomplished author herself, further remarked that regular exchange of high-level visits is a hallmark of Bhutan India relations.
“Such visits are important to not only nurture our bilateral relations and to set the environment for our cooperation but also sometimes to express the depth of our solidarity and friendship in times of distress such as the visit by His Majesty the King to Delhi a few days ago to attend the funeral service of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji,” she added.
Towards the conclusion of her address, Wangchuck claimed that the landlocked Himalayan nation is on the cusp of graduating to a middle-income country by 2023.
“Bhutan’s steady progression from a least developed country to a middle income country is a long cherished dream of every Bhutanese people and this would not have been possible without the unwavering support of the Government of India,” she maintained.
She said that the ongoing lit fest over the course of its previous eight editions has firmly established itself as one of the pillars of people-to-people interactions of the two countries.
“As we celebrate the golden jubilee, let us pray that this epitome of friendship will reach even greater heights in the years ahead. Let’s continue to strive for a common destiny by looking at the future together and not by looking at each other,” she said.
Wangchuck said that she was looking forward to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit some time during the coming winter.