India may increase financial assistance to Bhutan under the neighbouring country’s next five-year plan beginning 2019 as it reaches out to the Himalayan kingdom’s Prime Minister-elect Lotay Tshering.
The outlay could be increased as Bhutan embarks on gradual modernisation and holistic development, said people aware of the matter. During Bhutan’s 11th Five-Year Plan (2013-18), whose key objectives included self-reliance and inclusive green socio-economic development, India’s contribution of Rs 4,500 crore represented 68% of the total external assistance received by the country. In addition, India committed assistance of Rs 500 crore under an economic stimulus plan.
India is exploring possibility of enhancing support for Bhutan’s development projects, said the people cited earlier. Health sector is a priority for the new government. Improving Bhutan’s health sector is said to be one of the tasks close to the new PM’s heart. A Dhaka University educated MBBS, Tshering is expected to depend on Indian expertise in modernising Bhutan’s health sector.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to Tshering within hours of the election results last Friday and promised India’s support to his priorities. Tshering has made it clear that he will be guided by the king in conducting foreign policy and that ties with India are non-negotiable.
The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT’s) manifesto, with its slogan ‘Narrowing the Gap’ has promised social and economic development, striving to transform Bhutan to a developed country by 2045. The focus of the manifesto is to provide equitable health services including multi-speciality hospitals across Bhutan, improve digital connectivity, build more road, civil aviation and power infrastructure, among other developmental goals. India-Bhutan relations are expected to strengthen under DNT government.
DNT was voted to power with an overwhelming majority by the Bhutanese electorate. The party won 30 seats in the 47-seat Bhutanese parliament. The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), the other party in the final round of the election, won 17 seats.
Both parties fought an extremely competitive campaign both on the ground and in social media. Though all parties had formally agreed not to bring in “sensitive” subjects such as national security and foreign policy into their election campaigns, there was open discussion on these issues in social media and chat groups, said the people cited earlier.
In the last lap, DNT supporters hit out against the DPT for its leanings towards China. Interestingly, while the number of DPT-promoted pro-China posts were seen in large numbers ahead of the first round of election, in the second lap, the DPT, probably sensing the anti-China mood, played down such posts, said a Bhutan expert, who did not wish to be identified.
The second round also saw a large number of anti-China posts in the Bhutanese social media, with some posts even accusing China of providing funding to the DPT.