Wed, 31 May 2023

New Delhi [India], April 26 (ANI): Owing to the difference in economic and geographic size between the two neighbours, it is easy to perceive the India-Bhutan relationship as being tilted in favour of one but the truth is that the relationship is a mutually beneficial relationship based on shared cultural values and genuine all-weather friendship.

The India-Bhutan relationship is unique in more ways than one. Compared to other bilateral ties in India's neighbourhood, the relationship with Bhutan is relatively trouble-free and cordial.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries were formally established in 1968 with the appointment of a resident representative of India in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu. The India House (Embassy of India in Bhutan) was inaugurated on May 14, 1968, and Resident Representatives were exchanged in 1971.

Ambassadorial level relations began with the upgrading of residents to embassies in 1978. The basis for bilateral relations between India and Bhutan is formed by the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 1949, which provides for, among others, "perpetual peace and friendship, free trade and commerce and equal justice to each other's citizens."This relationship becomes even more important because four Indian states, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Sikkim, and West Bengal - share a 699-kilometre-long boundary with Bhutan. India is important to Bhutan in multiple ways. India is Bhutan's largest trading partner - both as a source and a market for its goods.

As a landlocked country, most of Bhutan's third-country exports also transit through Indian ports. Similarly, Bhutan is also important to India. Bhutan was one of the first nations to recognize the independence of India in 1947. India considers Nepal and Bhutan as important frontiers in its Himalayan foreign policy of mutual trust and cooperation.

Democratic development started in Bhutan only in the 21st century. The kingdom held its first elections in 2007 and the following year it became a constitutional monarchy guided by Buddhism. The Constitution is based on values derived from Buddhist philosophy, and the International Convention of Human Rights and inspired by a comparative analysis of 20 other modern constitutions. Buddhism provides a strong foundational basis for the friendship between India and Bhutan. Both countries' belief in peace and democratic values solidifies this foundation.

History was made once again in 2018 when LotayTshering became the Prime Minister of Bhutan. His party, which only began in 2013, swept 30 out of the 47 seats in Bhutan's Parliament. He was congratulated on his election victory by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who also invited him to visit India.

The state visit took place on December 27-29, 2018. PM Tshering was joined by the Ministers for Foreign Affairs Tandi Dorji and Loknath Sharma, Bhutan's Royal Government's Economic Affairs and Senior Officials. It was Lotay Tshering's first international trip since taking office in November.

Moreover, it took place in the year of the golden anniversary of Indo-Bhutan diplomatic ties. It was in keeping with the diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan, where regular high-level interactions between the two countries have become a tradition.

Thimphu was also the destination of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first foreign trip after winning his first election. This demonstrates that both countries see each other as excellent neighbours who want to keep their friendly relationship alive. Deepening collaboration with border states could help to improve bilateral relations even further.

Assam, West Bengal, and other Northeastern states can gain much by investing in economic and social relations with Bhutan. Bhutan is also an important part of India's Neighbourhood First foreign policy. As part of the Act East policy, India also discussed the potential of using waterways for the progress of Bhutan and also India's Northeast region. The NW 2 (or the Brahmaputra river region) can be leveraged for this purpose.

India is responsible for Bhutanese security. Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) is based in Bhutan to provide training to Bhutanese security forces. Regular India-Bhutan security and border management meetings have taken place, during which the two countries discuss a number of key issues, including threat perceptions, security and border management issues, sharing of real-time information, coordination of Indo-Bhutan border entry-exit points, and SSB escorts of Bhutanese people and vehicles. The talks act as a spark for furthering collaboration amid the two countries' long-standing amicable relations.

Indian funding and investments have been critical in the growth of the hydropower sector in Bhutan, which generates electricity for India as well. The Indo-Bhutan relationship has never been a zero-sum game. The economic relationship is not one-way, since India is also reliant on Bhutan in certain areas. For example, most of West Bengal's businesses now rely on electricity imported from Bhutan. Bhutan also plays a key role in safeguarding India's Siliguri Corridor, a tiny swath of terrain that connects the Indian Northeast with the rest of the country.

The advantages of Indo-Bhutan interactions are also evident in other sectors, such as education and culture. The Indian government awards roughly fifty scholarships to Bhutanese students each year to pursue higher education in India.

A large number of Indian instructors contribute to Bhutanese education, with many of them being sent to educate in rural areas. In addition, Sherubtse College in eastern Bhutan has grown into a leading tertiary education institution in Bhutan, thanks to its connection with Delhi University. Under the bilateral cultural exchange programme, the interchange of cultural troupes and artists between Bhutan and India has also become a regular practice.

A strong tradition of official visits at various levels has further facilitated ideas/views to be exchanged and areas of cooperation to be identified and enlarged between the two nations. Besides everyday people-to-people contact at the informal level, ministers, parliamentarians, civil servants as well as representatives of the business community all make regular official visits.

The Indo-Bhutan connection is possibly the only bilateral relationship in South Asia that pays off handsomely for both parties. Bhutan has expressed gratitude to India for its economic aid, while India has shown sensitivity to Bhutan's developmental requirements. Bhutan has been able to build a distinctive growth trajectory based on gross national happiness thanks to the connection.

Bilateral ties have matured into comprehensive cooperation over the last few years, spanning a wide variety of issues, like hydro-power, information technology, intelligence sharing, disaster risk management, education and culture. (ANI)

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