India and Bhutan by Aby Tharakan

In honor of Monday’s birthday of the King of Bhutan, my friend Aby Tharakan, a consultant at the very fine weekly newspaper, Business Bhutan, has written a dynamite piece on Indian-Bhutan relations: After all, India is the Kingdom’s closest ally and a tremendous source of financial support:

Excerpt:

“For India, a country surrounded by unfriendly neighbors, this commitment is important. There is deep-rooted suspicion in the neighborhood. Despite increasing trade relations with China, Beijing has not taken India’s ‘Look East’ policy lightly. India’s recent engagement with Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia is seen as a ploy to encircle China. On returning from a trip to China in November last year, Nepal’s Unified Maoists’ Party politburo member, Agni Prasad Sapkota said India’s investment in the development sector of his country is affecting it’s relation with China and it has to be corrected. Instability still marks the politics of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Describing a volatile neighborhood, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, in May 2009, said that India is caught in a “ring of fire.”

It would be wrong to say that Bhutan never had disagreements with India. A 1949 Indo-Bhutan Friendship treaty had clauses that Bhutan should conduct its foreign relations with India’s guidance. But it has never hindered Bhutan’s foreign relations and the country has been accepting non-Indian foreign aid for the past 50 years. And relations with India only kept growing. In 2007, the treaty was revised and the contentious clause was removed. The only force that kept this special relation going beyond the constraints of legal instruments is the Bhutanese monarchy. The country became a democracy in 2008 after 100 years of royal rule and the present king is a constitutional monarch. Interestingly, this has not led him to take a backseat. Instead the king has paved a new path of engagement with India; cashing in on his youth and charisma to foster a more organic people-to-people relation.

His realpolitik is the Hegelian idea on how a constitutional monarch should function. For a hereditary king, his will is the will of the people. While a constitutional sovereign has the will of the people as his will. From the point of view of a small country like Bhutan, the economic success and political stability of India, also translates to its own growth. So Bhutan, led by its monarchs, has been steadfast in supporting India. The good relationship with India is essential for the prosperity of Bhutan and its people.”

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