The success of any visit by a leader to a foreign capital is judged by three counts. The first is on who the leader is meeting, the second is on the nature of the talks and the third is the press coverage.
In that regard the Royal visit to New Delhi from 31st October to 3rd November was a big success by all standards, and importantly demonstrated a new sense of heightened importance and even sensitivity being given to Bhutan, by the top leadership in New Delhi.
It was clear that the Indian government had laid out the red carpet for the visit of His Majesty The King, Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Gyalsey to New Delhi.
The invitation for the visit came from the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi who is the head of the government and the effective center of power for all major government decisions in India.
During the visit, His Majesty The King, Her Majesty and HRH The Gyalsey was firstly received at the airport by the Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, a break from normal protocol and more significant since this was not a state visit.
Normally most Bhutanese leaders in the past were received on visits by a Minister of State equivalent to a Deputy Minister.
The meeting list for a non state visit was an impressive one, starting from India’s head of state the President of India, Vice President of India, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and various other cabinet ministers who came along with their senior most bureaucrats and officials.
The President of India, who is India’s apolitical head of state and ‘numero uno’ in the state protocol embodying the very state went out of his way to publicly thank His Majesty The King for Bhutan’s positive role in resolving the recent standoff.
Another significant moment in the visit was an invitation for dinner to the personal residence of the Prime Minister, an honour that is rarely bestowed to other visiting foreign dignitaries.
Even with the visit already taking place another highly significant aspect was an official invitation for a state visit to His Majesty The King for marking the 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries next year. His Majesty The King accepted the invitation.
Though the exact details of the talks between the two countries have not been released, it is the norm between governments to not let out confidential discussions and details.
However a press release before the visit made it clear that the discussion were going to be comprehensive saying, “The Royal visit would provide an opportunity to both the sides for reviewing the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation, including befitting celebrations for the golden jubilee of Bhutan and India’s diplomatic relations in 2018, and to advance the special bilateral ties of friendship and cooperation.”
During the visit another release indicating substantial and fruitful talks said, “During a cordial meeting held at the Prime Minister’s residence, His Majesty and Prime Minister Modi exchanged views on a broad range of subjects covering bilateral friendship and cooperation, including the 50th Anniversary of formal diplomatic ties between Bhutan and India which will be celebrated next year, as well as regional and international matters of mutual concern and interest.”
The release said His Majesty also expressed appreciation for India’s generous support for Bhutan’s socio-economic development. “Such warm, frank and frequent exchanges of views between the leaders of the two countries are a hallmark of the very close and special relations between Bhutan and India,” added the release.
Such meetings between top leaders gives an opportunity to avoid the layers of bureaucracy and protocol, especially in a large country like India, and allows the leader of a neighboring country like Bhutan to get to the point on matters that are important.
All of the above not only reiterated the old and friendly ties between the two nations, but also demonstrated a new level of appreciation for Bhutan in New Delhi that will lead to better ties between the two countries.
As for the press coverage there was active interest in the Indian media and also among the diplomatic and strategic community over the visit. This is also good for any visiting foreign dignitary or leader as it shows the genuine interest of a nation and its people. The coverage was not only extensive but overwhelmingly positive, appreciating Bhutan.
An important ‘X’ factor that not only garnered more media attention but also a lot of social media attention was the presence of HRH The Gyalsey. This would be the first major official visit of HRH The Gyalsey to a foreign country and even at a very tender 20 months made the country proud by His Royal Highnesses’ sheer calm, composure and dignity in front of the foreign media and foreign leaders. Going by the behavior of HRH The Gyalsey many mistook HRH to be older with one media outlet calling HRH The Gyalsey a five year old. HRH The Gyalsey soon started trending in the Indian social media.
At a more serious level, in any diplomatic visit or talk there is always an official and officious air which at times can become counterproductive if both sides stiffen up too much. In that sense the presence of HRH The Gyalsey, visible in numerous photos and videos, instantly disarmed even the senior most Indian politicians and officials who posed for photos with HRH The Gyalsey. Bhutan in that sense had a perfect goodwill ambassador in HRH The Gyalsey who added special warmth to the visit.
All in all, apart from the formal nature of a visit like this, what was very clear in between the lines, the meetings with the top Indian leadership, the gestures made and also the extensive press coverage was a genuine effort to listen to Bhutan and be more sensitive to its concerns. This indicates more appreciation in New Delhi over Bhutan’s importance.