23 Jun 2014

India-Bhutan Bilateral Relationship : An Overview!

Bhutan, which is sandwiched between the two most populous nations and aspiring global economic powers of the world, is in a situation of a guy who has to report to two bosses and direction of one boss goes against other very frequently. So, for peaceful coexistence Bhutan will have to manage with both of them very diplomatically without erring anyone, as those poor guys are managing on their job.
Why Bhutan is closer to India?

Democracy: Which China hates

Bhutan became a parliamentary democracy in 2008. The transition from monarchy to democracy was very different in two ways from what has happened historically (except U.K.) and is happening today or will happen in future. (Examples: Historically-United States of America, France, India etc.  Present- Countries facing the heat of Arab Spring like Tunisia, Egypt etc. Future-China where voices for democracy are being usurped)

       1.   Process was peaceful.
       2.   And it was initiated and completed by the kings themselves   voluntarily.

Changes he brought
Jigme Dorgi Wangchuk
set up a 130-member National Assembly
Jigme Singye Wangchuk
a)   Put into place a written constitution in 2001
b)   Set up Election Commission and allowed the formation of  political parties
c)   Created 25 Member National Council (Upper House) and a National Assembly (Lower House) of 47 members. The country is run by a Prime Minister in Cabinet with a two-party Parliament
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk
Encouraging youth to participate in democratic exercises in the country

In 2008, the then prime minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh visited Bhutan and supported the country's progress towards democracy.


Power Equations

Power is an important sector of Bhutanese economy. It contributes 12% to the GDP and 32% to Bhutan's total exports. Druk Green Power Corporation, which controls all electricity generation plants of the country, is the highest tax payer of the country. Three hydro-electric projects (HEPs) totaling 1416 MW, (336 MW Chukha HEP, the 60 MW Kurichu HEP, and the 1020 MW Tala HEP), are already exporting electricity to India. The revenues so earned by Bhutan has made it the country with highest per capita income in South Asia and helped it reduce its budgetary dependence to India.

India-Bhutan-Bilateral-RelationshipIn 2008 the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of India agreed to further develop a minimum of 10,000 MW hydropower generation capacities by 2020 and identified ten more projects.

India is in the dire need of such neighbor which can save its hard earned dollars and help stabilize the rupee. With uncertainty in global oil prices due to conflict in West Asia and North Africa (WANA), hydropower is boon for Indian economy and solution for power equations. Though contribution of Bhutan is much less for power hungry and behemoth economy of India, its importance cannot be ignored. Cooperation in the hydropower sector is a true example of mutually beneficial relationship.

Economic dependence on India

Bhutan is highly dependent on India’s aid for its development projects. Its five year plan is funded by India.

Co-operation in Defense

India has been maintaining an Indian Military Training Team in Bhutan which trains the Royal Bhutan Army. It has cooperated with India in clearing out the bases of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and Bodo groups from its territory in 2003 as it is believed that these groups posed a security threat to Bhutan and India both.

Bhutan backed India's stand on the Non-Proliferation Treaty and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which were accused as discriminatory de-nuclearisation programmes and also supporting India's claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Internationalization of Bhutan

India has helped Bhutan getting development assistance from multilateral and bilateral aid donors. Bhutan has also become member of SAARC(South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), BIMSTEC(The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation).

Earlier, Bhutan had a bilateral diplomatic mission only in India, but it has gradually opened resident diplomatic Missions in other neighboring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Thailand, and at the UN office in New York and Geneva. 

China-Bhutan Axis

Border demarcation is long standing between People’s Republic of China and Bhutan. Both sides have held many rounds of talks on the issue, but issue could not be resolved. Chinese territorial claims in western Bhutan are close to Siliguri Corridor. Beijing is also interested in establishing formal ties with Thimphu, where it does not yet have a diplomatic mission despite they are sharing approx. 470 KM long border. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley met at the sidelines of the Rio +20 summit on 21 June 2012. This meet brought one of the most sensitive and contentious issues of Bhutanese foreign policy back into the limelight. They expressed willingness to establish formal diplomatic ties between their countries, which made India uncomfortable.

HUNGAMA during election in Bhutan

PDP (People’s Democratic Party) won election. It was said and volume was raised by China that India’s decision to end a subsidy, though temporarily, came in the light of Jigme Y. Thinley’s (of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa ) government’s overtures to China. India’s step pushed up the price cooking gas and kerosene, and it led to failure of DPT’s govt. to win election.

India and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship on August 8, 1949, in Darjeeling. This treaty was signed by the representatives of the Government of India and the Government of His Highness, the Druk Gyalpo (the King of Bhutan). This treaty was a continuation of the Anglo-Bhutanese treaty of 1910. It was declared that that India would not interfere in Bhutan's administrative affairs and the Bhutan would be guided by the India’s advice in its external relations.

Pro-Chinese elements have criticized India over this article, accusing it of forcing its small neighbor into submission. Therefore, India negotiated a new treaty with Bhutan in 2007 whereby the provision requiring Thimphu to seek India's guidance in foreign policy was replaced with broader sovereignty and no longer formally requires Bhutan to be guided by India in foreign policy.

Nepal-Bhutan Axis

Persons of Nepali origin also euphemistically termed as ‘Southern Bhutanese’ who came to work as laborers in dense tropical forest of Bhutan’s foothills settled there. Fearing increased infiltration and threat from changing demographic structure, Bhutan decided to not give Bhutanese citizenship to those who had migrated after 1958. Problems due to Maoist insurgency in Nepal further exacerbated the situation. In the early 1990s, Bhutan evicted 1 lakh people of Nepali origin, forcing them to live in refugee camps in Nepal. Many of them had infiltrated to India but they pushed back to Nepal. India maintained distance from this issue and termed this issue as a bilateral one, between Nepal and Bhutan. India’s attitude gave outside powers an opportunity to take interests in issue of South Asia. Western countries had come forward to rescue those helpless refugees.

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)
India cannot afford to lose friendship ties with Bhutan. Former Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s government identified its importance and gave impetus to this relationship. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit has given a new warmth. Bhutan is facing high unemployment rate and national debt and this could alienate this last friend of India towards China. Since this country may be a part of India’s counter strategy to String of Pearls of China, it should be handled with care. At the same time, India should also stay away from playing games to seek its support, as it did during election. India’s relationship with Bhutan should develop organically rather than with coercion. There are good signals about India-China relations. Hopefully, Bhutan will also get benefited by these.

How India can play a larger role in the development of Indian sub-continent?

How India should act with her neighbor to be the true leader of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation(SAARC) and The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) nations?

How much important is bilateral relationship between India and Bhutan?

(Written by Sujit Bharti, an alumnus of IIT Bhubaneshwar)



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