Sunday, August 6, 2017

Emerging Crisis at Doklam

In the aftermath of the standoff at Doklam between India and China, there have been some discussions about Bhutan being a vassal or protectorate of India. The resurgence of this confusion and ambiguity is evocative of the post independent India, when this subject was keenly discussed and debated as a process of the consolidation of free India.

Upon seeking clarification from Sir Benegal Narsinga Rau, the Constitutional Advisor of the Government of India, the following is how he interpreted the status of Bhutan in 1947, in relation to India:

“Bhutan could not be an Indian State ‘strictly so-called’ and could not be taken even to be State in India. Its precise legal status was, therefore, of a foreign state governed by treaty relations. It was a foreign because it was in law not an Indian State nor was it a British territory. It was governed by the limitations imposed by the agreement which Bhutan had signed in 1910 with the British in India.”

So, the confusion and misunderstanding had been cleared 70 years back - as far back as 1947. Thus, any further discussion on the matter is inconsequential. However, what needs to be discussed is the progenitor of all the discussions: Doklam and the standoff that persists there!

My interpretation
It is my view that this was an orchestrated posturing by India, without ill will, ofcourse.

Let us follow the march of events:

18th June, 2017     - Doklam scuffle starts

25th June, 2017     - Indian PM Modi visits USA where he signs deals for
                                 purchase of drones.

4th July, 2017       - Prime Minister Modi visits Israel – first ever official visit
                                 by an Indian Prime Minister to the Jewish State of Israel.
                                 During the trip Modi signs deals for purchase of military
                                 hardware running into billions over many years – deals that
                                 USA is reluctant to make with India directly, for fear of
                                 repercussions from China to whom USA owes trillions.

10th July, 2017     - the tri-nation Malabar Naval Exercise in the Bay of Bengal
                                 begins, in an obvious demonstration of US’s pivot towards
                                 India and a new found camaraderie between the three
                                 nation states of India, Japan and the US.

To me it seems like PM Modi is on a shopping spree, for military hardware, and needed this posturing at Doklam to ramp up support at home. This may or may not be true – but what is clear is that India seems to be in some kind of desperation to deploy their military inside Bhutanese territory.

During the crisis of the early 1960’s arising out of the assassination of the late Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji, India seems to have contemplated deploying their military inside Bhutanese territory. On 2nd May, 1964, the then Indian Foreign Secretary Mr. Y. D. Gundevia, in his “Notes on Bhutan” wrote as follows:

“To begin with, it was felt that we could parachute a battalion into Thimphu, which would be supported by more troops transported by road from Hashimara. We had debated that if we were forced to do this, this might provoke the Chinese into crossing the Bhutan border from Chumbi valley.”

The fear of China coming to the aid of Bhutan seems to have prevented them from doing so.

Again, in the early 1990’s India offered to deploy their military to flush out a number of their militants forcibly camping inside the forests of Southern Bhutan. Our fourth King politely but successfully warded off such a perilous move. However, this year India seems to have finally been able to forcibly deploy some of their armed military personnel inside Bhutanese territory, in Doklam area. Bhutan is now in a crisis mode, as a result.

China is obviously aware that Bhutan will never invite Indian soldiers to jostle them at Doklam, thus they are incensed by this intrusion into what they point out is none of India’s business. China is livid that India has the audacity to brazenly trespass into Bhutanese territory – to mount military confrontation against them.

Does this go to prove the veracity of the British-Australian journalist Neville Maxwell’s claim that India was the aggressor in the 1962 war with China? In a repeat of history, has India tried to, yet again, intimidate China with an act of military aggression over a territory over which they neither have the right nor the claim of ownership?

Many decades of territorial claims and counter claims have gotten us nowhere, in part because we are sympathetic to India’s security concerns. And so we should be – after all, India has been generous with us for the better part of our long journey together. If India views maintaining status quo at Doklam as crucial to their security interests, by all means we have to see that we do nothing to unduly jeopardize their interests. But usurping Bhutan’s sovereign right and responsibility to deal with China does not help India. Infact it makes China even more belligerent and uncompromising. If India seeks to find a mutually beneficial solution that is agreeable to all concerned, India should be pliable to allowing the main parties involved to engage in dialogue, and not act the bully by unceremoniously shoving Bhutan aside and start smarting with China. Doing so weakens Bhutan’s position with China, and it does not help the cause.

India needs to reassess what they did in Doklam - let not ego stand in the way of doing the right thing. For Bhutan, we cannot be seen by the Chinese to be allowing anti-China elements to mount military actions, from within Bhutnese territory.


  1. What an insightful read. You always bring out some critical pieces of history and connect some important modern dots.

  2. The mega hydro power projects not making any progress, delays and cost increase including the most important highway all in control could be a systematic process for a purpose.

  3. an Indian been trying to get the Bhutanese take on this whole matter. Making all allowances for Realpolitik, China comes across as quite the nice guy while India the bully.

  4. It would be a bad deal for Bhutan, if it were to push it's friend India aside just to deflect Chinese aggression towards it. Fear is not the answer while responding to aggression. You need allies who help you fend off the aggression.

    With the Chinese, there is no middle position. It's Peace or war. Win or lose. Yin and Yang. A zero sum outlook. Appeasement will only encourage their aggression. That's my view.

  5. Perhaps it is time for our leaders to remember Lord Palmerston's dictum that "nations do not have permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests."

  6. AnonymousAugust
    'It would be a bad deal for Bhutan, if it were to push it's friend India aside just to deflect Chinese aggression towards it. Fear is not the answer while responding to aggression. You need allies who help you fend off the aggression.'

    No where did I find any mention of Chinese aggression' here,
    India shows up more like a scheming bully then a 'friend'.

    Typical Indian to impose your own view on the Bhutanese.

  7. Good analysis.
    Also dont overlook the murkkan factor,
    All 'crisis' leads to the 'empire of chaos'. !

  8. India wants Doklam not to protect its "chicken's neck" from the ridiculous charge of Chinese aggression so much as to get a strangle hold on Bhutan and prevent it from trading with China. It chose Doklam because it is easy for India to attack but difficult for the Chinese to defend. By risking war with China it is a very stupid move and may in the end alienate Bhutan.

  9. When a Brahmin pandit persistently asked the Buddha, "Is there god"?
    Silence. "Is there atman"? Silence.
    "Is there no aatman"? Again silence.
    Bhutan has become the contemporary Buddha. It can neither hurt a dear friend India nor appear to support India against China. Bhutan would want none of these. Silence.