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Bhutan, Bharat, bhai bhai !

China’s intrusive prevarication may not turn New Delhi – Thimphu relations sour. Trying dirty tricks as in Nepal may not work to Beijing’s advantage

Rohan Giri  / New Delhi

As of now China has emerged as minor distraction in India and Bhutanese relations that span over millennia, civilizational ties with strong bonds of friendship and close people-to-people contacts.


When Bhutan\’s king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk was in capital earlier last week on three days sojourn, there was enough noise made that growing proximity between Thimphu and Beijing may derail former’s relations with New Delhi.

Unflinching commitment to take this friendship to next level may have not gone down well with several Beijing protagonists within and outside India. This should not matter much.

Much of arguments that relations between the two countries were not honky dory had been attributed to remarks made by Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering on India – China – Bhutan border tri-junction, Doklam.  The 73-days standoff between India & Bhutanese troops against Chinese counterparts during June – August 2017 is still fresh in mind. Twist given to Prime Minister Tshering’s comments was interpreted as Bhutan going the Chinese way which was untrue.

In this backdrop, India and Bhutan scrupulously moving ahead with their commitment to neighbour-hood first policy assumes significance. Their shared vision for future cooperation including beneficial partnerships, significant reforms will have to be carried forward with vigour.

Bhutan king’s meeting with Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi had in fact cleared the air and set the ball rolling for Bhutan in expanded bilateral trade cooperation, technology, cross-border connectivity, mutual investments etc. In the 13th five-year plan, both leaders envisioned successive Druk Gyalpos to guide India-Bhutan relations to new heights.

Long-term sustainable bilateral ties in agricultural and critical commodities, setting up integrated checking post on the busiest trading way between both countries were also streamlined. Historical project of cross border rail link between Kokrajhar in Assam to Gelephu in Bhutan along with expansion of energy cooperation beyond hydroelectric project would further round the relations between two inseparable neighbours.

Indian foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra said, “India will work to extend an additional standby credit facility. We will work to shape long-term sustainable arrangements for export of agricultural commodities from Bhutan. Also, work to develop long-term bilateral arrangements for assured supply of critical commodities like petroleum and coal.”

If joint briefings were anything to go by, Bhutan seems keen to collaborate in financial technology sector, start-ups and emerging technologies. In effect, clear message seems to be on using United Payments Interface and ride piggyback as Indian rupee’s acceptance for making transactional settlements.

India and Bhutan are friends in need and in deed. Vaccine Maitri drive launched by India had pulled half a dozen neighbourhood countries out of the humongous Covid – 19 induced pandemic mess. In fact, Bhutan was the very first beneficiary of the Covid-19 vaccine consignment from India.

On the other hand, China was on expansionist spree beginning 2017 when it tried to build a road in 2017 through Chumbi Valley of Bhutan.

When Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister of India in 2014, Bhutan was the first country he visited treating the latter as a ‘reliable friend’ that could be trusted as an ally.

There’s no denying that prior to this visit, there were some hiccups when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh withdrew cooking gas and kerosene subsidies. But, these were restored in 2014 after India saw a tectonic shift in its own power structure.

Besides the bilateral and diplomatic relations, vibrant cultural linkages defined friendship between the two countries made it unique.

(Rohan is a journalism graduate from Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) New Delhi, and Manager Operations at CIHS.)

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