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India- Bhutan relations: Happiest Country turning Finicky?

Bhutan is a country well known for its serenity globally, apart from that it was declared as one of the world’s and Asia’s happiest country, which means that everyone more or less contends, there is comparatively less scope of tension. It shares boundaries with the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal and has been an ally of India since a long time, but there are reports that just like it’s neighbours Nepal, it too has joined hands with that of China. The reports came of their stoppage of the supply of irrigation water to farmers areas near Samdrup Jhongkhar borders such as Udalguri and Baksa district which can escalate into tensions between the neighbours. However, the Bhutan governments have brushed aside the rumours and have tried to pacify the situation by justifying it as technical glitches etc.

Time capsule

If we go back in time Bhutan is another classic example of a small country which asked for India’s cooperation and the treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship signed in 1949 is a testimony to it. The treaty spoke about cooperation in various areas such as perpetual peace and friendship, free trade and commerce etc, this treaty was later revised in 2007. Apart from that India has assisted Bhutan to carry out projects by offering both capital and human assistance in Tala Hydroelectric projects, assisting them in Highway projects, exploration of mine and mineral activities etc. To add more, the biggest aid that India has probably provided to Bhutan is protection from Dragon(China). Especially after the Tibetan chapter, the security concerns were at an alarming rate.

Previously Bhutan was just like an obedient student who knew that India was an able guide and had happily accepted provisions such as Article 2 of the treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship which sated that Bhutan had to consult India before conducting any external relation, issues such as foreign policy and non-lethal military purpose etc.  Apart from that, it has always backed India at most of the International forums such as SAARC,UN etc and also backed the Nuclear tests in Pokhran. Bhutan had cooperated to carry out vital missions such as ‘Operation all clear” to drive out the militants from Bhutan who had used its territory for training and breeding purpose.

Is there a shift?

There has been a drastic turn in events and a Chinese angle unquestionably pops out. China has started peace talks with Bhutan over the disputed 470 km Sino-Bhutan boundary around the ‘chumbi valley’, the very problem with this settlement is that chumbi valley is a vital geostrategic point of view because it stands approximately 500 km from the’ Chicken Neck’, connecting Northeast India with the rest of India and the Chinese have offered the Bhutanese a deal where they would be handed over another disputed land, although the deal has not seen the light of the day. Chinese have also tried to enter Bhutan through commercial ties by providing aid to modernize Bhutan, cultural exchange and emotional and religious point of view by building the tallest statue of Buddha in Thimpu. But the moot point is that what exactly does China want, does it want to extend its autocratic ‘Belt and Road’ project, or does it want to impose is suzerainty, annexing the territory of Bhutan is something that time will tell.

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Going forward

The miscommunication between India and Bhutan, if any, should be sorted at the earliest. Bhutan has hurled allegations against India such as buying cheap electricity from them, article 2 of  Perpetual Peace and Friendship which sated that Bhutan had to consult India before conducting any external relation, issues such as foreign policy and non-lethal military purpose etc had been revoked under the 2007 amendment or revision. Bhutan had to suffer setbacks when the Dokalam Tension escalated and the current population of Bhutan have developed a resentment attitude, unlike their ancestors who were helped to the fullest and somehow feel alienated from the warmth.

The Chinese lure

Bhutan should not forget that Chinese military has touched upon various outposts of the Royal Bhutan Army, reports also talk about Chinese stealing yaks, medicinal herbs and timber which poses a threat upon the livelihood of the local Bhutanese natives and moreover from the recent example from Nepal where in lieu of economic aid there are reports that mandarin has been made compulsory in various schools of Nepal, which has raised several eyebrows. India is just like the mongoose from Panchtantra tales who has acted as a shield to protect the baby(Bhutan) and out of sheer misconception, the protector mongoose(India) gets killed then who will protect the baby(Bhutan) from the vicious snake (China).

About the author: Prakreetish Sarma. He is currently practising as an Advocate in Gauhati High Court, completed graduation in law from National Law University and Judicial Academy Assam. Interests are playing football, badminton, interested in cooking, discovering new places and going for trekking and into social work.

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