Ojaank IAS Academy

OJAANK IAS ACADEMY

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OJAANK IAS ACADEMY

India and Bhutan

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The visit to India this week by Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the fifth monarch of Bhutan, was both substantive and subtextual. The joint statement, which was released following discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Droupadi Murmu, described collaboration in several sectors. India has committed to provide extra standby lines of credit and assist Bhutan’s upcoming economic aspirations.

With the government agreeing to take into account Bhutanese requests for accelerating long-delayed projects (Sankosh and Punatsangchhu), increasing the tariff on Chhukha, the oldest project, and purchasing power from the Basochhu power project, hydropower, the “cornerstone” of India-Bhutan relations, also received a boost. An integrated truck crossing at Jaigaon, a checkpoint for foreign nationals, and a cross-border rail link from Kokrajhar to Gelephu are among recent infrastructure developments. Future collaborations may focus on STEM education, space research, skill development, entrepreneurship, and a new Internet gateway for Bhutan, in line with the Bhutanese king’s “Transform Initiative.”

When young unemployment reached 21% in 2021, the Bhutanese government is also concerned about the amount of citizens leaving their country for other countries. As Bhutan’s elite used to receive their education in India in the past, India must also pay more attention to this brain drain. The programmes proposed stand to benefit Delhi and Thimphu in keeping the talent in-house since India stands to lose its advantage in Bhutanese policy making and public narrative.

Concern should be raised about the visit’s subtext in light of recent remarks by Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lotay Tshering signalling progress in China-Bhutan border discussions. In an interview with a European newspaper, he stated that Bhutan and China hoped to resolve their disagreement over the demarcation of their northern border at the next “1ยญ2 summits.” The fact that China has proposed this delineation as part of a “package deal” with Doklam, the region close to the trijunction with India and strategically important due to its closeness to India’s Siliguri corridor, should raise warning flags.

Bhutan has made it clear that any discussions on the tri-junction would be “trilateral,” but India is concerned about any changes to the area around the tri-junction, so there has to be complete clarity on the matter. Also, New Delhi must prevent Bhutan from being under pressure from hypernationalism and its rivalry with China. The foundation of India’s long-standing relations with Bhutan has been a shared belief that one country’s growth benefits the other regardless of how big or small it is. Most crucially, they have never taken any action that would have an impact on their long-cherished partnership without first considering the other’s interests.


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