Smt. Sonia Gandhi Ji, President of The Indian National Congress,
Your Excellency, Dr. Manmohan Singh,
Your Excellency, Distinguished Guests,
Ladies & Gentlemen,
It is a great honor and privilege for me to be a part of this August gathering at this International Conference to commemorate the 125th Birth Anniversary of India’s first Prime Minister, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru.
I bring with me the warm greetings and good wishes of His Majesty The King and His Majesty the 4th King of Bhutan on this very auspicious and important occasion.
Prime Minister Nehru holds a very special place in the hearts of the Bhutanese people. Two remarkable acts of friendship made a deep impression on the minds and hearts of our leaders and people. At a time when our small nation was still following a policy of self-imposed isolation, this towering leader of a large and powerful neighbor extended the hand of friendship to our 3rd King His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk by inviting him for a state visit to India in 1954 as the Chief Guest for the Republic Day celebration.
This was followed by even more heartwarming act of friendship when Prime Minister Nehru accompanied by his daughter Indira Gandhi made a long and arduous journey on horseback and yak crossing many high mountain passes on a historic visit to Bhutan in 1958.
Most people overlooked the fact that Prime Minister Nehru was 69 years old when he made this difficult journey across high and rugged Himalayan terrain to visit India’s small northern neighbor. It was the very first time that the head of any government had even attempted to visit Bhutan. With this remarkable journey of friendship, this great man, this great leader, won the hearts of the Bhutanese’s people, who still refer to him very aginyaroh. Aginyaroh is affectionate we use when we speak to our very respective elder of the family. Addressing the people who had come to listen to him on the grounds of Ocean Gallery palace. Prime Minister Nehru clarified India’s Policy regarding Bhutan with the following words. In a speech which was translated by the King him self and I quote. “Some may think, India is a great and powerful country and Bhutan is the small one, the former might wish to exercise pressure on Bhutan. It is therefore essential that I make it clear to you that the only wish is that you should remain an independent country choosing your own way of life and keeping the path of progress according to your will. At the same time we too should live with mutual goodwill. We are members of the same Himalayan families and should live as friendly neighbors helping each other. Freedom of both, Bhutan and India should be safeguarded so that none from outside can do harm to us.“
Prime Minister Nehru encouraged the king to end Bhutan’s Policy of self-imposed isolation and embark on a process of planned development for which India would extend full support.
The generous offer of Friendship and support extended by Prime Minister Nehru was deeply appreciated by King of Bhutan started opening up to the outside world with launching of its 1st five year plan in 1961. This began the process which enabled Bhutan to advance on the path of social economic progress and emerge as the responsible member of the International Community. It was Prime Minister Nehru and His Majesty the 3rd King who laid the strong foundation on which the close ties of friendship, understanding, and cooperation between our 2 countries has flourished over the years. The exemplary relations between our two countries were further strengthened by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, His Majesty the 4th king of Bhutan and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and by the successive leadership in both countries cutting across party affiliation. As a result India-Bhutan friendship today stands out as a shining model for interstate relations between a small country and a very large powerful neighbor.
The people of Bhutan will always remember Prime Minister Nehru with deep appreciation and affection as the great leader of India who reached out to us with the hand of friendship and began the process which makes all things possible. Prime Minister Nehru’s generous and far sighted policy towards Bhutan was just one example of his greatness as the leader and as the statesman. Even before he became Prime Minister of Independent India, Pandit Ji was highly respected by leaders of many countries as a visionary statesman. He was also an accomplished scholar, a gifted writer and an intellectual of the highest order.
He strongly champions the cause of freedom from colonial rule. As the founding father of the Non – aligned Movement, it was his moral thoughts and sterling personality that infused strength in the policy of Non-alignment and also in enhanced India’s International status. As Prime Minister of India, Pandit Nehru had to meet many challenges in administering the vast and divert country that had gained independence after a long struggle by many freedom fighters, dedicated freedom fighters like him. One of the biggest challenge is was to make democracy was in a large developing country with big social challenges and a low literacy rate. Some observers in the west openly declared that democracy would not work in India but with the strong commitment to democratic values, Prime Minister Nehru proved these critics wrong and ensured that the democracy took firm roots. India today has the distinction of the largest parliamentary democracy in the world. Among his many initiatives to develop India he emphasized Industrlization, laid the foundation for time and research and established premier institutions of higher learning.
Prime Minister Nehru was a great visionary leader and exceptional International Statesman and a very Nobel Man of many talents and accomplishments.
It is most befitting that this international conference is taking place in Delhi to mark his 125th birth anniversary and revisit his ideology and legacy against the backdrop of contemporary global challenges.
I look forward to the successful outcome of this very important conference.