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India, Bhutan share unique ties, says Mukherjee ahead of visit

New Delhi, Nov 6 President Pranab Mukherjee, who embarks Friday on the first presidential visit to Bhutan in 26 years, has praised then Bhutanese king Jigme Singye Wangchuck for the “remarkable role” he played in weeding out a section of the northeast extremist groups that had taken shelter in the country in 2003 and also termed the bilateral relationship as “special”.

On the eve of his two-day state visit, the President in an interview to the Bhutan Broadcasting Service described the development cooperation between India and Bhutan as “unique”.

“It is a unique cooperation. There is no conditionality. There is no concept of donor and recipient. Our relationship is totally dependent on mutual trust, confidence, understanding and friendship,” the President said.

Referring to the 2003 “Operation All Clear” in which Bhutanese troops cracked down on around 30 camps of northeast insurgent groups, including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), operating inside Bhutan, Mukherjee said: “The remarkable role which His Majesty played in weeding out a section of the extremist group ULFA, which took shelter in Bhutan in 2003, is admirable.”

“Though I was not in government at that point of time, every Indian felt highly indebted to him. Naturally, cooperation was further strengthened under the government immediately after that.”

Mukherjee, who will meet Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay during his Nov 7-8 official visit, also said: “If Bhutan prospers, I feel happy because I will be benefited.”

“If India prospers, naturally Bhutan will feel glad and happy that Bhutan will be benefited by this prosperity. This is the type of relations we have.”

Referring to the “excellent cooperation” in the hydro power sector, Mukherjee said: “Nearly Rs.1,000 crore of Bhutanese exports are from power. The additional power generation through three more projects, which will be completed by 2018, will bring additional revenue and additional export earnings.”

The President pointed to the “close personal relationship” he has with the fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, developed over the past decades through their “years of discussing, sharing common perceptions”.

Mukherjee said he has a close relationship even with the present king “because I saw him as young boy when he used to accompany his father. Since then I have seen how he has grown”.

On the people-to-people ties between the two nations, Mukherjee said that currently more than 4,400 Bhutanese students are studying in India.

“Almost three-fourths of the Bhutanese student population are studying in India. I am not merely talking of education. A large number of Bhutanese people have been trained – industrialists, civil servants, technocrats, teachers, doctors, engineers.”

“There is also our bonding through Buddhism,” he said.

Referring to the democratisation transition launched by the fourth king in 2006, the president said: “I saw with my own eyes how an absolute monarch, voluntarily abdicated his power, encouraged people to participate in democracy and established a beautiful Constitution.”

“Before drafting that Constitution, the king resorted to an exemplary mechanism. He consulted a large number of people.”

Emphasising on how the relationship with Bhutan cuts across party lines, the President said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi by choosing Bhutan as his first destination for a foreign visit “conveyed the message that Bhutan has a special place in India”.

To a question on funds for Bhutan not getting released at the proper time, the President said it “sometimes happens because of the time taken for the disbursement of the support which India is expected to provide to Bhutan”.

“Last year, in 2013, we gave additional Rs.300 crore to meet the requirement of Bhutan even when our financial year was closed and the budget was passed. This year, I understand more than Rs.900 crore have already been disbursed.”

“Others which are due will also be disbursed in course of time. We have to follow certain financial rules and regulations. These rules and regulations are meant to ensure that money is being properly disbursed and disbursed money properly used so that there is no delay in implementing the projects in time,” he said.

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