Manmohan to visit Bhutan in May

New Delhi, March 26:

As Bhutan becomes the newest democracy in India’s neighbourhood after over 100 years of absolute monarchy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is readying to go to Thimphu in May - the first visit by an Indian prime minister to that country in more than a decade.

“The prime minister will go to Bhutan in May. Dates are being worked out,” an official source said. If the scheduled April 10 Constituent Assembly polls in Nepal go well, the prime minister may combine a trip to Nepal with Bhutan in May, the source said. The visit will focus on the forging of a more diversified and contemporary economic and energy partnership in tune with emerging realities in the new countries, the source said.

With the India-US civil nuclear deal slipping into political limbo, the visit of the prime minister to Bhutan is a part of the larger mission of diversifying the country’s energy basket as the Himalayan state has huge untapped potential in hydro-electricity. PV Narasimha Rao was the last Indian prime minister to go to Thimphu - in 1993.

Celebrating Bhutan’s march towards “constitutional, democratic monarchy” as it held its

first-ever poll on Monday, India promised to “provide all possible assistance to the royal government of Bhutan during its period of transition”. India assisted the democratic transition of Bhutan by training poll officials and setting up Bhutan’s Election Commission, as well as providing over $2 million in assistance, including electronic voting machines. The prime minister’s visit to Bhutan will signal a renewed effort by the two neighbours to modernise their ties - a process that began in February last year when the 28-year-old King Jigme Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk came here to sign an updated treaty of friendship with India.