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India to restore Bhutan fuel subsidy soon

NEW DELHI: The stunning victory of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in Bhutan's second democratic elections has raised hopes of an early settlement to the situation arising out of India's withdrawal of subsidy on its supply of LPG and kerosene. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has written to PDP chief Tshering Tobgay to convey that he has already asked his officials to prepare for discussions over India's Plan assistance to Bhutan. Singh has assured him of India's "unflinching and steadfast" support and that New Delhi is and will always be mindful of Bhutan's interests and that India is a privileged partner of 
Bhutan in its socio-economic progress. 

As is well recognized here, Bhutan may be a tiny, landlocked country but is strategically important for India. After the PDP swept the polls on Saturday, senior government sources here said New Delhi was looking forward to continuing its "special and unique" relationship with Bhutan. They said India would not allow the rural poor in Bhutan to suffer and that efforts would be made to expedite terms and conditions for a fresh wave of financial assistance to Thimphu. 

While New Delhi has painstakingly tried to convince all that 
Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) chief and former prime minister Jigme Thinley's policies were not a dampener in bilateral ties, and cited his nine visits to India in the past five years, the truth is that India doesn't mind seeing the back of Thinley. 

New Delhi was alarmed not just by Thinley, who made himself the official ambassador of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness phenomenon, reaching out to Beijing but also the manner in which he established diplomatic ties with many other countries without bothering to take South Block into confidence. 

While many in Bhutan have attributed motives to India's decision to cut subsidy on 
cooking gas and kerosene during the elections, official sources here said that for India the successful conduct of a second election is indicative of consolidation of democracy in Bhutan. "India has always held that it is happy to work with all in Bhutan. We look to continue the special and unique relationship," said a top government source. 

What's interesting is that it was the PDP which seemed to be giving vent to India's concerns during the election when it repeatedly blamed DPT for strained ties with New Delhi. The party blamed Thinley's policies even for the subsidy cut by India.