PM Narendra Modi Plays Safe!

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No, it's not Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China or Japan! Narendra Modi chose Bhutan for his maiden foreign trip, as prime minister of India. An official team has left for Thimphu to set up the visit and work out the logistics.

The visit is planned to take place after the ongoing Parliament session. No Indian PM has made his or her first foreign trip to Bhutan. Bhutan conducted Operation All Clear in December 2003, against the India-specific insurgents and thrown them out, something that no neighbour has done for India.

Bhutan is a zero-problem model neighbour. Visit to two other SAARC, neighbours, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, would have created problems domestically.

Modi's visit to Bangladesh would be meaningless till the two sides make a forward movement on the two pending bilateral issues - Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) and Teesta water accord.

Visiting Sri Lanka could have created problems as the Tamil issue is a sensitive one down south.

Modi had other choices too from a list of major powers like Russia, Japan and China for his first foreign trip. Russia, however, eliminated itself by its controversial move of lifting its ban on selling weapons and defence equipment to Pakistan.

Japan and China could have been possible destinations. Japan, because it is the only major power with zero bilateral problems with India and China because Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made India the destination of his first foreign visit.

But then given the deep distrust and bitter rivalry between Japan and China, choosing either of them for Modi's first foreign trip would have upset the other.

Bhutan was found to be the ideal choice. It also shows that while Modi continues to keep foreign policy high up in his scheme of things, his immediate focus is on adjacent neighbours and on playing it safe.

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