Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Agent of Change: Did He Change Anything?

Narendra Bhai came - and went. I don’t know what is the official view but in my personal view, he did not quite crackle and pop, as I had expected he would. India’s latest human tornado did not quite disappoint - but he did not sparkle either. I did have a sneaky feeling that we were burdening him with over expectation. It was evident, as can be expected, that his visit to Bhutan was too hasty, poorly prepared and hopelessly premature. After all, the man has been in office barely three weeks. If he intended to convey the message to his naysayers that good relations with neighbors is key to his foreign policy, it did not quite come through that way either. His visit turned out to be rather placid - there was no customary oomph in whatever he said. But he did say a number of things.

Oops: He suffered a momentary amnesia when he called Bhutan, Nepal - in the course of his speech to the Bhutanese Parliament.

Hindi: At one point during his speech, he made a suggestion that Bhutanese people should learn Hindi while, at the same time, candidly admitting that Hindi is already understood and spoken by a large number of Bhutanese. By contrast, Hindi is not spoken or understood in most of the Southern States of India. I am a little intrigued why Mr. Modi chose to give primacy to Hindi over other Indian languages. Some of my Indian friends would be terribly infuriated if I told them that Hindi was their national language. May be Mr. Modi is reminiscent of the times when Hindi was taught in Bhutanese schools, until English replaced it as the medium of instruction - during the late 50’s.

B2B: this old hackneyed acronym has been given a new twist by Prime Minister Modi, during his speech to the Joint Sitting of the Bhutanese Parliament. Generally understood to mean “Business-to-Business”, this evocative contraction now has a new Avatar, thanks to him - “Bhutan for Bharat” and/or “Bharat for Bhutan”. I cannot help but wonder if Narendra Bhai drew inspiration from his first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who coined the phrase “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai came visiting India in the late 1950s.

Tourism Circuit: He also suggested that Bhutan should form a part of India’s North-Eastern States tourism circuit whereby Bhutan is part of the grouping that would include Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh etc. I cannot understand how this will work - given that Bhutan’s tourism business model is completely different from that of these North-Eastern Indian States. May be he has an idea that we have not yet hit upon. It would be worth looking at the concept in greater detail. After all, during his tenure as the Chief Minister, the State of Gujarat has seen huge progress in the tourism sector.

Mr. Modi also spoke of hydro-power projects, a string of e-libraries around the country, doubling of scholarships etc. He also made the point that “Terrorism divides, tourism unites” in an obvious reference to Indian militants supposedly using Bhutanese territory in the south, to hide from Indian authorities.

He also mentioned that the relationship between Bhutan and India is as thick and inseparable as milk and water. That is nice ... now I hope he will do his part to ensure that the mix is not allowed to  curdle.

But if you ask me, the best thing about Mr. Modi and his visit is that he went back without leaving behind a Promissory Note. The last one left behind by his predecessor on the floor of our Parliament still remains to be fulfilled. Thumbs Up to you! - Say less, do more!


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