Bhutan-India For Strengthening Existing Ties

Bhutan’s newly elected Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering paid a three-day State visit to India at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was accompanied by Bhutanese Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Economic Affairs and senior officials. This was his first foreign visit after taking charge last month. It was also the third Bhutanese Prime Ministerial visit to India in this year. The visit happened while both the countries are celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations. Prime Minister Modi, in fact, was the first world leader who congratulated Dr. Tshering over his party Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) electoral success in Bhutan’s third parliamentary elections held in October 2018. Earlier, as part of the ‘Neighborhood First’ policy, Mr. Modi had chosen Bhutan as the first country he visited after assumption of office in May 2014.

Ever since diplomatic relationship was established in 1968 between India and Bhutan, it has emerged as one of the most successful neighbourhood stories in South Asia, which is characterized by mutual trust, understanding and maturity. The treaty of India-Bhutan Friendship and Cooperation singed in 1949 (updated and revised in February 2007) has remained as the pillar of this relationship. This has facilitated special arrangements like open border, security cooperation and deep people-to-people contacts. Despite many asymmetries, both the countries feel dependent on each other and acknowledge each other as equal partners in their endeavour towards economic growth, consolidation of democracy and regional peace.

The frequency of high level visits has consolidated the special relationship further between the two countries. Immediately after formation of the new government in Thimphu, India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had visited Bhutan and held talks with the new political leadership. Given the special ties with Bhutan, India accorded high-priority to the visit.

During official level talks, both sides deliberated upon a wide range of bilateral and regional issues. Since this was the first high-level exchange after the change of guard in Thimphu; New Delhi felt that it could provide an opportunity to advance the exemplary ties of friendship between the two countries. Dr. Tshering called on President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu and discussed a wide range of issues with them.

Minister of External Affairs, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Minister of Commerce & Industry and Civil Aviation, Suresh Prabhu and Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Power and New & Renewable Energy, Raj Kumar Singh paid courtesy calls on the Bhutanese Prime Minister.

India is the largest trading partner (over 82 percent of Bhutan’s total import) and investor of Bhutan. It has developed three hydroelectricity projects which generate 1416 MW electricity. Around three-fourth of the electricity is being exported to India. India has agreed to assist Bhutan in generating 10,000MW electricity by 2020. India has also been assisting in Bhutan’s planned development efforts since in 1961. In Bhutan’s 11th Five year plan (2013-18), India’s share of assistance is Rs 5,000 crore of the total budget outlay of Rs 21300 crore. Many bilateral institutional arrangements already exists between the two counties in areas like water resources, trade and transit, economic cooperation, security and border management.

As part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations, both countries organized several cultural programmes with a series of commemorative events throughout the year. The inaugural ceremony of the establishment of diplomatic ties was marked with traditional songs and dances in Thimphu. Foreign Ministers of the two countries unveiled a special logo on this occasion through a video-conference.

Dr. Tsering’s visit helped in consolidating the existing bilateral ties. Both the Prime Ministers deliberated upon a wide range of issues and new mechanisms to advance the special ties further. During the one-on-one meeting they also discussed cooperation on trade and economic issues, hydropower, energy, climate change, infrastructure, security and strategic issues and India’s techno-economic assistance to Bhutan for its 12th five year plan.

Script: Dr. Nihar R Nayak, Research Fellow, Idsa