The new Indian Ambassador Gautam Bambawale is regarded as a competent diplomat in New Delhi with extensive experience in dealing with key countries like China, Japan, USA and Germany. He sat down for an in-depth interview with the Editor-in-Chief of The Bhutanese, Tenzing Lamsang
Q. What are your main priorities as Ambassador to Bhutan? Have you been given any specific mandate by the new NDA govt in Delhi under Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
G. Bambawale = I arrived in Bhutan 4 days ago and it was a great honour being able to present my credentials within 24 hours of coming to this beautiful country. My main objective is to provide greater momentum and substance to the already strong partnership between India and Bhutan which is a win-win situation and two way street for both countries. This is a partnership in which both sides have created a stable foundation for building further relationships. I would like to point out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose Bhutan as the first foreign destination and he also described that partnership between the two countries as B4B which is Bharat for Bhutan and Bhutan for Bharat. I will be working on this principle of B4B to take our partnership forward adding momentum, substance and content.
Q. What are you planning to do to strengthen the relationship between the two countries?
G. Bambawale = As far as we are concerned India greatly values its partnership with Bhutan. We already have a strong and robust relationship with Bhutan and we cooperate in the fields of economic development, education and people to people ties and exchanges. There is scope to move forward in all these areas. However, we also always want to know the priorities of the Royal Government of Bhutan and its people and we always keep it in our mind. We also want to work with Bhutan based on its priorities to strengthen the partnership.
Q. Bhutan’s main priority in the coming five years is strengthening economic growth in light of the rupee and credit crunch by increasing exports to other countries especially India. What facilitating role could India play in this?
G. Bambawale = You see, both India and Bhutan are currently engaged in the process of economic development and social progress. Both the countries share the same objectives and so there is a large scope for the two countries to work together. Given Bhutan’s priorities we would be happy to assist in any way and also given India’s priorities we would be happy receive any assistance from Bhutan. This partnership is a two way street and despite differences in size and population there is little doubt in our minds that this is a partnership where both countries can benefit from each other.
Q. There is a perception that while the Bhutanese side does all it can to fasten the 10,000 MW by 2020 projects the delay inevitably comes from agencies in India be it in release of funds or approval of DPR and other issues. What would you be doing to fast track the process?
G. Bambawale = You are correct when you say that when projects are executed weather in India or Bhutan it is very important to execute projects on time and within the cost estimates. As soon as there is any delay the cost goes up and so my efforts will be to ensure that these projects are completed on time within the cost estimates. However, sometimes there are circumstances beyond ones control where despite the utmost efforts the projects cannot be completed within the time or cost estimates.
The efforts of the entire Government of India and my personal efforts will be to ensure that the projects are completed on time and within the cost estimates.
Q. This year’s Indian budget has allocated a record Nu 60 bn to Bhutan of which Nu 47 bn is for hydropower and Nu 13 bn is as developmental assistance to Bhutan. What is your understanding of these increased amounts?
G. Bambawale = The Government of India has allocated greater resources this year and we are happy to do that. These figures can be seen in the budgetary papers presented by the Finance Minister in the Indian Parliament shows greater resources being allocated for Bhutan’s projects and programs. The whole of the Government of India’s efforts will be there and I would also say that as the representative of the government of India we will work to ensure that all resources are made available for Bhutan’s projects and plans.
Q. In the past there have been some issues on the timely release of funds for the 10th plan. Would you be looking into them and perhaps ensuring more timely release for the 11th plan?
G. Bambawale = Let me answer this in a very short manner, that is to say that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Wait for the next few months and see whether the flow of resources has been quickened or not.
Q. Before your posting here you were the Joint Secretary handling the East Asia desk focusing mainly on China and Japan. You are also known to be fluent in Chinese. How would this experience along with other previous postings enhance your current mandate?
G. Bambawale = Every experience contributes towards the personality of an individual and I have had 30 years of diplomatic experience. It is just not one or two postings but 30 years of experience that has contributed towards my personality which will come to bear during the course of my tenure in Bhutan. I look forward to it and I am delighted to be in Bhutan. I am also happy to be given an important assignment and I hope to bring all my experience to bear in expanding the B4B partnership.
Q. In the backdrop of the successful visit by PM Narendra Modi to Bhutan please comment on the stronger focus on regional diplomacy by the new Indian PM and what it means for Bhutan?
G. Bambawale = The very successful visit of PM Narendra Modi to Bhutan was the first foreign visit after assuming the post of PM and it has sent a very strong message to the people of Bhutan, people of India and around the world. It would not be incorrect to say that the Prime Minister Modi’s government is focused strongly on the immediate neighborhood and region. It started with the invitation to SAARC leaders to join in the swearing in ceremony and it has continued through PM Modi’s visit to Bhutan and it is also to be noted that a few days ago the PM made a successful visit to Nepal. So there is absolutely no doubt that the focus is strongly on the immediate neighborhood.
At the same time this is a policy followed also by previous governments in India and so there is continuity though there is no doubt that PM Modi is focused on the immediate neighborhood.
The reasons are not very difficult to find because if the immediate region around India or the South Asian region and beyond is safe and secure and prosperous then India also will be safe, secure and prosperous. For example in the case of Bhutan a prosperous Bhutan is in India’s interest and a prosperous India is in Bhutan’s interest. It is a two way street and everybody benefits. We are looking at the whole region and also beyond the region like Myanmar and also beyond like the major powers.
Q. The Bhutanese PM recently announced that Bhutan has no plans to establish a Chinese embassy quashing rumors and speculation about it in some sections. What is your reaction to it?
G. Bambawale = As the Indian Ambassador I am responsible for the India – Bhutan relations and I do not want to comment on Bhutan’s relationship with third countries including China as that is a matter for Bhutan and China to decide.
Q. Any comments on the latest boundary negotiations between Bhutan and China?
G. Bambawale = The relationship between Bhutan and China including issues such as boundary matters are for the two countries and I will not comment on issues between two sovereign countries.
Q. Do you feel that the relationship between Bhutan and India have become more complicated after Bhutan became a democracy?
G. Bambawale = What kind of a political and economic system Bhutan adopts is for the people of Bhutan to decide. The government of India and the people of India will respect the wishes and priorities of Bhutan. It is a matter entirely for the people and leadership of Bhutan to decide.
Q.The previous Ambassador V.P Haran did a lot of travelling around Bhutan checking on GoI projects. Would you be doing the same?
G. Bambawale = I intend to travel across the length and breadth of the country to as many parts and meet as many people in Bhutan. That is going to be my methodology of doing my job. I would be travelling on a professional capacity with a two-fold perspective. One is to actually see the project being done on the ground and get ground experience and first-hand account of the challenges and more importantly to see the country and get a better understanding of Bhutan.
Q. On a lighter note what has your personal impression been of Bhutan so far and tell us something about your family?
G. Bambawale = Let me say that I am delighted to be in Bhutan. My first impression is that this is a very beautiful country with warm and hospitable people and I already had the great honor of the warm hospitality of the Bhutanese people. I have two sons one of whom is working while another is completing his Masters Degree in Mathematics from USA. My wife Amita Bambawale is here with me and she has expertise in the areas of curriculum development and teacher training. She would like to volunteer her services in this area if there is need for it.