The West Bengal Potential

With less than a year left in her term before the 2016 May state assembly polls, the West Bengal Chief Minister dropped in for an impromptu five day visit to Bhutan.

Given that not even a single major agreement was signed during the visit some critics in Kolkata called it a holiday tour to Bhutan.

In an indicator of the suddenness of the visit, when the Prime Minister raised the issue of the Golden Jubilee railway the CM was surprised and said that matter was outside her knowledge.

Even though she agreed to review the rail project stuck due to land acquisition issues, in another breath she put a dampener on the project saying land cannot be acquired forcibly. This is also in the context of an election year in a state where land acquisition is a sensitive issue.

However, despite the above, the visit of the CM has a lot of potential for better political and economic ties between Bhutan and West Bengal.

A lot of times whenever we say Bhutan and India it actually comes down to Bhutan and West Bengal be it in trade, tourism, border issues, transport and people to people ties.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his recent visit to Bangladesh did not hesitate to take the West Bengal CM along to cement better ties. It is clear that New Delhi wants a neighboring state like West Bengal to build closer ties to Bhutan and help facilitate various issues more effectively dealt at the state level.

For Bhutan the PDP government in its election manifesto promised to focus on strengthening regional ties with neighboring states like West Bengal and Assam. Therefore, the invitation to the Bengal CM by the PM was a well thought out move on this front.

It is interesting to note that though there were no fixed programs and pre-arranged agreements, there was a lot of natural chemistry, both between the political leaders and the business leaders on both sides.

Even though Mamata has come towards the end of her term all current indicators show her in a strong position to win the 2016 polls as the pre-eminent political force in West Bengal. The large and high profile official delegation brought by her shows the importance given to Bhutan by her government.

The first meeting which was more of a ‘get to know session’ has gone smashingly well and now the agencies and businesses on both sides must follow up  for the shared benefit of Bhutan and West Bengal.

“Successful diplomacy is an alignment of objectives and means.”

Dennis Ross

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