Relations in past:
- India and Bhutan have enjoyed a “special” relationship, according to analysts. “India and Bhutan have closely aligned their foreign policy on many occasions. E.g.: the common position both countries have taken with regard to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
- The two countries have also taken a common position vis-à-vis terrorism referring to Bhutan joining India in pulling out of the 2016 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit, which was to be hosted by Pakistan, following a string of terrorist attacks in India.
- The two sides have agreed to “cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests”, in line with the 2007 India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty.
Assured by India for its distinct identity and autonomy since India’s independence Bhutan has been in the good book of India since the very beginning. There has arisen a need to revisit the India’s Bhutan policy and address issues that have come up in the past few years.
- Hydro-power projects:
- Delays in constructing and commissioning in Bhutan by Indian companies have led to the country’s burgeoning national debt.
- India’s power-surplus status and the advent of other renewable energies like wind and solar power will make it more difficult for Bhutan to ensure that its hydropower sector becomes profitable.
- Unless India finds ways to help, it will be accused of the same sort of “debt-trapping” that China is accused of today.
- Trade and Commerce:
- India is Bhutan’s largest trading partner. India and Bhutan have signed an Agreement on Trade, Commerce and Transit in 2016, which provides for a free trade regime between the two countries aimed at boosting the bilateral trade for mutual benefit.
- The goods and services tax still hurts Bhutanese exporters, and demonetisation has left lasting scars on the banking system.
- Government’s decision to cut cooking gas subsidy just before the 2013 elections in Bhutan has often been shown as proof of Indian interference.
- Security Issues:
- Doklam crisis and incidences of Indian presence being mistakenly represented as Indian encroachment have the potential to deteriorate the relationship between the two countries and push Bhutan into the lap of China.
- It has even raised doubts of a few that India is acting as a “Big Brother”.
The measures for continuing the cohesive and durable relationship with Bhutan are:
- The principles of Panchsheel and Gujral doctrine must drive our relations towards Bhutan.
- The hydropower projects, where delays in construction and commissioning by the Indian companies took place, have led to the Country’s increase in the national debt. The tariffs need to be re-negotiated.
- The advent of wind / solar energy in India makes it more difficult for Bhutan to ensure that its hydropower sector becomes profitable. This concern must be addressed.
- India must be careful not to seem bossy, and end up souring up its relationship with Bhutan as was done in the case of Nepal. Considering this legacy of Independent democracy, India should refrain from interfering in sovereign matters of Bhutan.
- A politically stable Bhutan is important to India. An unstable and restive Bhutan would not only jeopardize India’s investments in that country but also provide a safe haven for anti-India activities and anti-India militant groups.
- India needs to focus on policing cross-border trade.
- India needs to discard the tradition of offering economic subsidies and negotiating project proposals with neighbouring capitals and focus instead on enabling agreements, and let market forces leverage the existing economic and geographic complementarities.
- More people to people contact: Steps should be taken to involve people in national, regional or cultural events so that close and strong relations between the two countries could be sustained.
- India needs to give more attention in inviting Bhutanese youth to study in India at all levels.
- Media, particularly social media, needs to be harnessed to reach out to Bhutanese policymakers and common people to give them the confidence that India will stand by them for their economic and cultural development.
- There are many potential areas ideas like organic farming, eco-tourism, developing north eastern states that can be explored and cooperation to be strengthened.
- There are high level groups on security, water management, power, trade, investment, culture which can smoothen the relations between nations.
- India looks for the opportunity for Bhutanese students in every kind of institutions and the scholarship for them has also been expanded.
- In cultural aspect, there is a Nehru-Wangchuck Cultural Centre in Bhutan and they also have very rich culture where exchanges do have a broad opportunity.
- India being the fast growing economy has to align itself with Bhutanese ideas of sustainable development in various aspects.
- Hydro-electric powergenerated by Bhutan’s run-of-the river dams is the economic bedrock of the India-Bhutan relationship.
- India needs to act robustly to address Bhutanese concernsthat are weakening the traditionally strong India-Bhutan bilateral bond, as a strong relationship with India could reduce the chances of Bhutan succumbing to Chinese pressure.