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UPSC Sansad TV: AIR- Strengthening India-Bhutan Relations

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Introduction:

India and Bhutan share a unique bond characterized by historical, cultural, and strategic affinities. Over the years, this relationship has evolved into a multifaceted partnership, encompassing various sectors such as trade, education, security, and hydropower cooperation.

Relations in past:

  • India and Bhutan’s relations trace back centuries, marked by mutual respect and understanding.
  • The Treaty of Friendship between the two nations in 1949 laid the foundation for their enduring partnership.
  • India played a pivotal role in Bhutan’s modernization and democratization processes.
  • 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.
  • 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:
    • Economic cooperation forms the cornerstone of India-Bhutan relations, with India being Bhutan’s largest trading partner.
    • 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.

Strategic Partnership:

  • Both nations share common security concerns and collaborate closely on defense matters.
  • India provides security assistance to Bhutan, ensuring its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
  • The strategic location of Bhutan makes it an essential partner for India in its regional security architecture.

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.
  • 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.
  • Cultural exchanges between India and Bhutan foster greater understanding and solidarity.

Future/Way Forward of the relations:

  • Deepen strategic cooperation to address common security concerns and ensure mutual defense.
  • Strengthen coordination on regional and global issues to promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Diversify economic engagement by exploring new sectors and avenues for collaboration beyond hydropower.
  • Foster investment and trade facilitation initiatives to enhance economic ties and mutual prosperity.
  • Expand cultural and educational exchanges to foster greater understanding and friendship between Indian and Bhutanese citizens.
  • Promote tourism to showcase Bhutan’s unique cultural heritage and natural beauty, strengthening bonds at the grassroots level.
  • Invest in critical infrastructure projects to enhance connectivity and facilitate smoother trade and travel between the two nations.
  • Collaborate on sustainable development initiatives, including environmental conservation and renewable energy projects.

Conclusion:

  • India-Bhutan relations stand as a testament to the enduring friendship and cooperation between the two nations.
  • As both countries navigate the complexities of the modern world, their partnership continues to strengthen, driven by shared values and interests.
  • Looking ahead, it is imperative to further deepen and diversify this relationship, ensuring mutual prosperity and security for the benefit of both Indian and Bhutanese citizens.
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