Manmohan Singh given rousing welcome in Bhutan

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{image-manmohan singh_16052008.jpg}Paro/Thimphu, May 16: The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, was given a rousing welcome on his arrival at Paro International Airport on Friday morning by both Bhutanese dignitaries and locals.

As his Air India aircraft flew into scenic Paro located huge snow-capped mountains, the excitement of a visit being undertaken by an Indian Prime Minister was visible all around. Talking to local media here, one got a sense of the happiness over the visit. Phuntsho Choden, a reporter with the national daily Kuensel, described the visit as a historic occasion, as in the "Bhutanese were looking forward to for quite some time, especially in view of the fact that the leader of the world's largest democracy was personally coming to share the joy of the people of the world's youngest democracy".

Tshering Chunki, a reporter with the private daily the Bhutan Times, said: "Relations between India and Bhutan are of longstanding. This is a historic visit, and we look forward to this two-day stay yielding positives for both countries now and in the future."

When specifically asked who controlled the strings in infant constitutional democracy like Bhutan, whether it was the King or the Prime Minister, she told ANI: "In Bhutan, we are a very young democracy, just two months. The Prime Minister is for all practical purposes, the Head of Government, the head of the administration. As far as the King is concerned, he is still above all. He may be working in tandem with the Prime Minister, but for the people of Bhutan, he is supreme. We, our parents, our ancestors, have all been brought up to view the King with awe and respect. He is a gift from God. It is in our mindset for years, and therefore, will not be easy to do away with."

Dorji Wangchuk, the Chief Executive Officer of Centenial Radio, echoed similar sentiments, and said an infant democracy would take some time to acclimatise itself with its new form of governance. The King was still someone to be respected.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was received by his Bhutanese counterpart Jigmey. Thinley and his spouse, Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, Mr. Sudhir Vyas, besides dignitaries from both sides. Both Dr. Singh and Mrs Gursharan Kaur were presented with ceremonial white shawls called "Khadar" in Bhutanese and bouquets.

Speaking to the media soon after his arrival, Dr. Singh said that India would take every step possible to strengthen relationship with Bhutan and both the countries will walk together in the 21st century.

"This is an unique relationship between India and Bhutan. I would like to say to the people and the Bhutan Government that India will take every step possible to strengthen the relationship and walk together in 21st century," he added.

The Prime Minister noted that India and Bhutan shared a unique relationship as the countries have centuries old ties of culture, religion and geography.

"This is a very auspicious year for Bhutan. This is a year when century of Wangchuk dynasty is observed. This is the year of coronation of king of Bhutan. This is a year when Bhutan has ushered in democracy," he said.

The Prime Minister further added, "Bhutan has just witnessed elections, marvellous development and a peaceful transition to democratic monarchy. As a democracy, we cherish this moment and we will use our visit to strengthen it in every possible way the close bonds of friendship."

The drive into Thimphu from Paro was beautiful. Children and adults dressed in traditional Bhutanese attire lined the streets on either side of the moutainous terrain, waving both Indian and Bhutanese flags, and shouting themselves hoarse with slogans like 'Long live India-Bhutan Friendship".


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