Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Indo-Bhutan Relations: A Reality Check - II

Bhutan is a small nation that neither has economic power nor military muscle. Even our geographical landmass and population base is, at best, insignificant. Thus, even if we make noise once in a while, we do so from a position of powerlessness. The precariousness of our condition is made even more perilous by our location - bang in the middle of two Asian giants with nuclear capability and unbridled ambitions for regional dominance. And yet, we have thus far survived as a sovereign nation state - even as Tibet and Sikkim got gobbled up selectively by each of these antagonistic rivals. The eel-like slipperiness with which we managed to remain out of the clutches of both of these competing colonizers must say something about the Bhutanese peoples’ adeptness at the art of peaceful co-existence.

But India seems to miss a very important point: that central to our success of being able to maintain a state of peaceful neutrality towards both the countries while, at the same time, deftly managing to avoid hostilities between the world’s most fractious nations, is: the freedom of self-determination - without interference from others and without the need for acts of political and diplomatic brinkmanship. What India did during this election was a terrible blunder - she forced a situation on us that we are in no position to handle. India has forced us into polarization - a dramatic departure from our age-old foreign policy that has helped us maintain peace and tranquility among nations. We cannot escape the consequences - nor can India. In the words of Sunanda K. Dutta-Ray:

“If one bunch of Bhutanese politicians leans towards India, another is bound to lean towards China. Given the fragility of Sino-Indian relations, this polarization is not in Bhutan’s interest. It is even less in India’s interest for the Bhutanese to have to face such a choice.”

Bhutan has been forced into making a choice and the PDP as a political party had made their choice during their election campaigns. But now, as the ruling government, the party will have to state their government’s foreign policy - in no uncertain terms. This bullying by India was unnecessary and ill advised. But Bhutan is not new to India’s bullying. I remember.

I traveled abroad for the first time in my life - in 1979. During those days, we had to transit through Indian airports since we did not have air service. One of the most frustrating and illogical impositions by India on the Bhutanese travelers was a foreign currency restriction of US$ 150.00 per person. It did not matter the duration of our trip - we could not carry more than US$150.00 per person.

In the early 80’s, as the Head of the Export Section of the Ministry of Trade & Industries, I used to be frustrated by a list known as the “Exportable Surplus List”. This was a list that we had to declare to the government of India - at the beginning of each year. Unless a good or produce/product was included in this predetermined list, Bhutan was not allowed to export any other items to a third country.

The appointment of Michael Rutland, OBE as United Kingdom’s first Honorary Consul to Bhutan has caused India to raise objections on the grounds that we have violated a tacit understanding that existed between India and Bhutan - that Bhutan will not establish any diplomatic or consular relations with any of the P5 countries. The UK is one among the permanent five.

More recently, India has arbitrarily refused to recognize Bhutan’s Travel Document as a valid and legal document for our residents to enter and travel within India. Every other country in the world accepts our Travel Document as a legitimate document issued to Bhutan’s non-national residents.

The last straw was during last month when, in the middle of our elections, India imposed what can be considered an economic blockade - similar to the one they imposed on Nepal during the 80’s - in the form of two subsidy withdrawals. Lot of Bhutanese believe that this single move decided the outcome of the elections - I personally do not subscribe to this theory.

By contrast, China is among the first countries in the world that has given Bhutan something that India has consistently denied - a sense of equalness and dignity; independence and sovereignty. That was demonstrated when China adamantly refused to include India in the Sino-Bhutan border talks - as of early 80’s. Until the late 70's, respecting the Clause 2 of the Indo-Bhutan Agreement of 1949, discussion on Bhutan’s border disputes with China were included along with those of India’s. China, having come to realize, after many rounds of fruitless discussions that India would never allow a just and reasonable settlement of Bhutan’s border issues with China - they put their foot down and clearly stated that the border disputes of independent and sovereign Bhutan can only be discussed and resolved with, and by, Bhutan. Thereafter, as of 1984, Bhutan and China held direct border talks.

Since then, 20 rounds of discussions and 30 years later, our border disputes with our northern neighbor remains unresolved - only for one principal reason: even without the presence of India during the talks, Bhutan has always had to keep in mind India’s security concerns and could not agree to Chinese proposals that directly conflicted with India’s security interests.

China has been trying hard to draw out Bhutan from India’s orbit. Bhutan is also the only country - among her fourteen neighbors - with whom China has no diplomatic ties. Bhutan has remained single minded in our support for India.

India needs to treat us with a little bit more respect than she has done so far.

                                                                                                                  ....................... to be continued


  1. Please u better stick to your hobbies as cited in ur profile of the blog. Stop digging digging, else u will dig ur own grave!

    1. Some of us find it helpful to have honest and courageous ppl stick out their views. I think it is important for democracy to work. If you do not like the views, we would be just as happy to read your views. I know the author will not respond coz it does not deserve one, but I don't think it is a good idea to threaten ppl like that. You have to be from the govt or India to be able to do that.

  2. "Lot of Bhutanese believe that this single move decided the outcome of the elections - I personally do not subscribe to this theory" I did not agree with you on this issue in your earlier post. Now I am glad that you clarified my doubts. I too totally disagree that subsidy withdrawal decided the outcome of the election. I feel that if you could put forward your thoughts and experiences in a unbiased way, it would be worth going through it.

    1. What I meant was that I do not accept that the subsidy withdrawal was the Joker in the Pack. I believe that this piece of theatrics was inconsequential. The influence on the outcome of the elections was something else.

      May be one day I will write my thoughts on it.

  3. Dear Yeshey,
    Nice piece. Younger generations should be fed with the experiences and information that your generation had. There are lots of things that we do not know.Our generation has been given to understand that India is our best friend and that they have been selflessly providing us assistance. Only when i was in college did i learn that those assistance were not free and that it came with strings attached... i am sure there are lots things we do not know about indo-Bhutan relation, some too sensitive to be even written n shared.. Wangcha sangay has been providing his part of experiences which i found very useful..i hope u ll also continue to do the same..

  4. Nice to go through

  5. I have been following your posts for some time now and all along I thought that your anger against our southern neighbor was because you believed that it had hijacked the elections by removing the subsidies. Now you say that you don't subscribe to that view. If that is the case then what do you think was the other factor which brought about the election result. Why do you continue your diatribe against India?

    1. Please read the following:

      “Lot of Bhutanese believe that this single move decided the outcome of the elections - I personally do not subscribe to this theory.”

      I commented:

      “What I meant was that I do not accept that the subsidy withdrawal was the Joker in the Pack. I believe that this piece of theatrics was inconsequential. The influence on the outcome of the elections was something else.”

      By this, I mean that I DO NOT BELIEVE that the subsidy withdrawal influenced the election results in any way. The reason was something else.

      What I write is not a diatribe against India - but because of what they did, it has now become necessary for us the Bhutanese people to reflect and understand what really happened. We have to demonstrate to India that we Bhutanese may be driven by certain compulsions but that we are not entirely fools.

      Please don't be in a rush - take time to understand what I am saying ... then draw your own conclusions. One last post on the issue is coming where I will sum up my thinking.

    2. Only fools would believe that the subsidy cuts announced by India just before our General Elections by themselves contributed to PDPs win, the majority of the Bhutanese know the main reasons for DPTs loss, but it was so well orchestrated to make it look as though what India did was the X factor that led to people voting for PDP and shunning DPT. The only problem with this theory is that no one bought it, the result is, while we know why DPT lost, the part played by India has made many people in Bhutan hate their guts. But the million dollar question that begs, is, was India in the loop, the answer to this is a resounding YES and that they were fully aware what they were getting into. They also knew that with the PDP in power, they would have a more pliable government in Thimphu and were they right in thinking so, the answer to that probably lies in the way the PM and the whole cabinet went to receive and see off Ambassador V.P.Haran right up to his SUV.

  6. Dear Yeshey, Keep on writing and adding personal experiences and information for the posterity and for record. History is often written by the victors and truths and facts are often discarded or twisted. I have heard of an infamous 'P' form which Bhutanese citizens had to fill and get approved to travel to foreign countries via India in late 70s and 80s. This form I believe needed to be cleared by the Ministry of External Affairs of India. Also any foreigner coming to Bhutan needed to be cleared by GoI those days. I hope some of our senior citizens can throw more light on these. I heard from a high official that we could not establish our Embassy in Dhaka for a number of years and only when the Congress government fell after the Emergency saga and the Janta government came in, we were allowed to open our Embassy in Dhaka. In fact I believe Smt. Indira Gandhi wanted Bhutan to be their next Sikkim and started a number of measures towards that objective but her Emergency debacle outdid her evil designs. A strong Indian central Congress government had and has imperialistic designs in the neighborhood. Our Kings have nurtured good relationship with the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty but factually looking the Dynasty is on the wane and we need to reach to all political parties in India and move away from our obsession with Congress. Also as a matter of fact I hope our monarchs realize that India is the biggest democracy and in principle democracy contradicts monarchy. Looking into the history of modern India how the princely states were integrated into the Indian nation and also the treatment of their rajas over 60 decades depicts the ultimate Indian democratic mission. We need to stop living in fools' paradise that India supports our monarchy unconditionally and wants Bhutan to be independent, self sufficient and an equal partner neighbor. India wants a Bhutan that is their stooge, fully dependent, unconditionally obliging if she can not make Bhutan into one of its states. This election we fell into India's trap and it will take a lot of hard work to get away.

  7. It is a catch 22 situation!!

  8. Dear Anon (of August 26th), you might be interested to hear that when a European national tried to travel to Bhutan in 1962 permission to do so could (by their account) only be granted by the Indian Government - this was not in the hands of the Bhutanese.

  9. i never knew bhutanese hate india so much...i always highly respected them and was impressed when they helped india and scuttled out ulfa.in 5000 years history of india...it never ever ever invaded another country.its not in our dna.sikkim was not gobbled up ...99% voted and wanted to join india...read history before spewing venom but in china its just the opposite..99% dont want to be with china.china treats their neighbours like trash...go and see what it is doing to taiwan..no freedom whatsoever...infact its own citizens dont enjoy freedom.india is 100 times better than china.u will know itin future...u people r not trustworthy..u people will surely cozy up with china for some dollars give away land near siliguri...forgetting the fact that nehru once said aggression against bhutan is aggression. against india..when china was contemplating attacking bhutab and taking over ur country...without indias help ur country wud nt hv existed and this is how u repay...today u take 20 buses tmrw 20 guns and then few dollars and then give away border...how can we trust u?..when u r spewing so much of venom already?..