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RIGHT NOTE

Narendra Modiís visit to Bhutan ó his first foreign trip after assuming office ó says more about his approach to governance than about Indiaís relations with the tiny Himalayan kingdom. A new prime ministerís first official trip abroad usually sends out diverse signals. If Mr Modi had chosen high-profile nations such as the United States of America or China for his first foreign trip, the signals could have been mixed. By choosing to visit Bhutan, the prime minister has made his point without being unnecessarily demonstrative. It is a short visit that makes it a low-profile affair and yet strikes the right note. It can also be seen as a confirmation of the importance of neighbourhood diplomacy in Mr Modiís scheme of things. He had given an indication of this by inviting the heads of governments of South Asian nations to his swearing-in as prime minister last month. This emphasis on Indiaís ties with its neighbours, if pursued with tact and clarity of vision, can earn India rich diplomatic dividends. More important, if India earns the confidence of countries in its backyard, it will do a lot of good to the new governmentís image elsewhere in the world. Mr Modi may not intend to present a comparison, but the success of his neighbourhood policy would stand out in sharp contrast to Beijingís worsening relations with countries like Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

However, there is an added significance in Mr Modiís choice of Bhutan as his first foreign destination. Relations between New Delhi and Thimphu had gone through a rough patch in recent years. Matters became particularly complicated during the run-up to the last general elections in Bhutan. Mr Modiís visit may help heal some wounds and reassure the Bhutanese of Indiaís commitment to the kingdomís peace, security and economic progress. Both history and geography make stable India-Bhutan ties important for both countries. Indiaís diplomacy in South Asia need not be all about a balance of power. Economic integration of the region may build stronger bridges between New Delhi and these countries. Given Mr Modiís record in governance, it is safe to assume that he may take the economic route to achieve this. He may like to do so not only with countries like Nepal, Bhutan or Bangladesh but also with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and even China. The short trip to Bhutan shows he is on the right track.