For a small Himalayan country mentioned occasionally in the travel sections of the international media, the business focused ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ summit saw world leaders and business tycoons giving the most applause for Bhutan.
Major Indian publications and media outlets splashed Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay’s speech on January 11 across their news pages and websites, mentioning how it even stole the thunder of much bigger players at the summit.
The Prime Minister’s speech was also an important investment policy statement promoting the unique selling proposition of Bhutan but with conditions.
‘Vibrant Gujarat’ is one of the biggest investment summits in the world where economic policy initiatives are announced and investments of billions of dollars are made in India, and especially in Gujarat.
Inviting investors at the summit to invest in Bhutan, Lyonchhen declared, “Bhutan is open for business.”
Going more elaborate, he said, “We have a workforce that is well educated; we have clean energy that is very cheap; we have economic policies that are business-friendly; we have peace and stability; and, most importantly, we have free access to India’s huge market.”
The Prime Minister, at the same time, also made it clear that it would only welcome those investments which are green and sustainable.
Spelling out the priority areas for Bhutan, Lyonchhen said, “For that reason, we welcome investments in renewable energy and hydropower, organic farming and tourism, and education and information technology.”
The PM also emphatically said, “Bhutan is open for business. So if you are interested in doing business in Bhutan; if you are interested in doing Business with Values; if you are interested in doing business with Gross National Happiness; then I am interested in meeting you … here in Gujarat, or, better still, soon in Bhutan.”
Before going on his tour to India the Prime Minister had said that the main aim of his visit to the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ summit would be to garner possible investment for Bhutan.
The PM said, “I want to tempt you to visit my country to breathe our fresh air, to see our clear skies, to taste our clean water, to meet our friendly people, to enjoy our rich culture, to experience Gross National Happiness. If you like what you see, if you like how you feel, if you can connect with us, then, and only then, I invite you to consider investing in my country.”
However, the Prime Minister’s speech and the response it got made it more than just an investment pitch for Bhutan. The speech was the introduction of Bhutan, itself, to the summit, an introduction that the audience responded well to.
The PM’s speech as also unique in the summit as all major speakers before the PM including US Secretary of State John Kerry praised India and Modi to the skies. Lyonchhen in a departure introduced his country Bhutan, highlighted the positives and most importantly called for investment.
The speech while making a humble and honest admission of Bhutan’s small economy, which is at a GDP of USD 1.7 bn, more importantly focused on Bhutan’s unique strengths and positive qualities.
The PM said, “I am acutely aware that many of the delegates in attendance here are worth more – are worth more individually – than the entire GDP of my country. In fact, some of you are worth many, many, many times more.”
“Our economy may be small, but we have used our limited resources wisely. Healthcare, for example, is completely free. And so is education – all children enjoy free education, not just free primary education, but free secondary education as well … and free college education,” said the PM as the audience clapped.
Going onto more applause, Lyonchhen said, “Our economy may be small, but it is green, and it is sustainable. Our many fast flowing rivers are a source of renewable clean energy. Tourists who visit us experience the exclusivity of what we call high value, low-volume tourism. And as for agriculture, a good 95% of our farming is either still natural or fully organic.”
The ‘high-value and low volume’, which should have been ‘high value and low impact’, was the only Freudian slip in the speech.
There was even more applause as Lyonchhen highlighted that small as Bhutan’s economy was, it had enjoyed some remarkable successes. He gave three examples.
Lyonchhen said the first was that Bhutan achieved economic growth, but without destroying its pristine environment. As a result, 72% of Bhutan is under forest cover, more than half the country is protected as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, and Bhutan has pledged to remain carbon-neutral for all time to come.
Giving the second example he said Bhutan achieved social progress, but without undermining its rich culture and heritage. “We are the last surviving Mahayana Buddhist country, but truth be told, our traditions are not just surviving; they are thriving,” emphasized the PM.
“And three, we have achieved democracy, but without fighting for it. Our people didn’t want democracy, so it was introduced in an unprecedented manner: gifted by the Throne, against the will of the people. Our democracy is only 7 years old, but it is already well institutionalized – it is vibrant and deeply entrenched,” said the PM.
“All this, and more, has been possible only because of the extraordinary leadership of our Kings,” added the PM.
The PM’s speech was also unique as it gave a simple explanation of the philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to both a foreign and domestic audience. In doing so, he also stated his government’s position on the philosophy of GNH.
He said, “GNH attracts considerable attention at home and internationally. As such, scholars and philosophers, politicians and economists have offered to define GNH in countless ways. But His Majesty the King has repeatedly reminded us that Gross National Happiness simply means ‘development with values’.”
Lyonchhen said that Bhutan’s Monarchs are the architects of GNH, a unique development philosophy that strives to carefully balance material growth with inclusiveness, sustainability and good governance.
“Our Fourth King has famously said that for Bhutan, Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. Sakal rashtriya khooshi, sakal rashtriya utpad sey jyada zaroori hey… (GNH is more important than GNP).”
The PM’s speech also had a diplomatic component, as he said, “Much of what we have achieved in Bhutan has been possible because of the friendship and support of India, our close friend and neighbor.” He went on to thank Prime Minister Modi, his government, and people of India for their steadfast friendship and continued support.
The Prime Minister, indirectly affirming the religious ties that bind the two countries, said that he planned to also visit Varanasi and Bodh Gaya on a religious pilgrimage, following the satisfying pilgrimage of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen.
Lyonchhen also broke into fluent Hindi saying that he wanted to first undertake the economic pilgrimage first before undertaking his spiritual one. Also in Hindi, he thanked the Indian PM and the Chief Minister of Gujarat for inviting him to the summit. The brief switch to Hindi went down well with the audience who also responded enthusiastically.
The Prime Minister is on an official visit to India to India from the 10 to 18 January 2015. He is meeting various ministers and dignitaries in India.