In a region which is overwhelmingly characterised by the much familiar trend of deep rooted distrust, uncertainty and suspicion, there has been one major exception: the Indo- Bhutan relations. Both the nations have been able to strike the right chord and have been able to sustain their friendship. This article takes a closer look at the ties and makes an attempt to answer some of the lingering questions pertaining to various facets in the backdrop of Indo-Bhutan relations.
What are the various elements which link the two countries? Whether the bond serves only Bhutanese interests or it holds equal gains for India? What will be the way ahead for future relations?Bhutan’s Interests.As far as Bhutan is concerned, it has derived optimum benefits in almost all spheres from its relations with its closest ally. India has always extended massive support to Bhutan and is involved in numerous projects, which include hydro power projects, cement industry, road construction etc. Hydropower exports encompasses around 40% of domestic revenues earned by Bhutan and is a major constituent at around 25% of its GDP. In the eventuality of India becoming a global manufacturing hub, Bhutan will also reap the rich dividends owing to its abundant natural resources. India is Bhutan’s largest trading partner and accounts for nearly 90% of Bhutan’s total exports.Being a landlocked country, India provides Bhutan with several transit routes.
A free trade agreement is prevalent between India and Bhutan and the Bhutanese goods transiting through India if accompanied by the Transit Declaration document are not subjected to any sample check by the Indian authorities. A citizen of Bhutan does not require either a passport or a VISA for entry into India by land or air. Popularity of Indian institutions among Bhutanese students is a benchmark for judging the essence of bilateral ties.
Today, around one third of Bhutan’s students are pursuing higher education in India. This is mainly because India is a more economical destination and a plethora of scholarships are readily available. Several scholarships are granted every year by India to meritorious Bhutanese students.India off late has emerged as a viable platform in the sports arena and offers excellent opportunities to the budding sportsmen from Bhutan.
Chencho Gyeltshen who is currently representing Minerva Punjab Football Club in the ongoing Indian Super League is one such fine example. Bhutanese still undertake a major portion of their journey through Indian road space while travelling towards east. The number of Bhutanese vehicles plying on Indian roads far exceeds the Indian vehicles in the dragon kingdom. This is a common sight across all the border cities.
India’s Interests. Bhutan holds immense security imperatives for India and an unwavering and stable internal situation is a prerequisite for it to be an effective buffer state. India presently follows a policy of mutual benefits from the projects which are being undertaken in Bhutan. The hydro power projects in Bhutan are a befitting example of the win – win cooperation between India and Bhutan. It is an economical and reliable source of clean electricity to India.
The Chukha and Tala Hydel power projects ensure power supply to several parts of West Bengal and Assam. Such projects go a long way towards partially resolving the power shortage problem and also ensures the development of the north-eastern parts of India. India has always garnered accolades at the international arena for all the goodwill gesture extended towards the dragon kingdom which has contributed towards enhancing India’s image at the global pedestal. Bhutan in order to maintain its cultural identity has deliberately kept itself isolated from maximum parts of the world. Tourists from the west are rarely seen in Bhutan and have to undergo a stringent procedure for security clearance.
However on the other hand, the Indian tourists don’t require a VISA for entry into Bhutan. There are around 60,000 Indian nationals living in Bhutan who are generally employed in the hydro power projects and construction industry. In addition around 8000- 9000 daily workers from India enter and exit Bhutan every day in border towns.To sum up Bhutan has gained immensely from the special relations it has had with India towards its multifaceted development as a nation. It has slowly and steadily grown in international stature.
Both the countries need to take concrete measures in the field of education to increase transparency in monitoring admission of Bhutanese students in various institutions in India. In the near future the Indo- Bhutan relations are set to reach newer heights. The partnership is a win – win situation for both the nations, however the pendulum of accruing more advantages seems to be favouring the Bhutanese more in the overall gambit.