India and Bhutan: Evidence of age-old friendship

Priyanka Saurabh

India as a friendly and helpful neighbour has been responsive to the needs of Bhutan. Bhutan plays a very important role in India’s foreign policy and is strategically important to India. Relations between India and Bhutan are based on the pillars of trust, goodwill, and mutual understanding. The two neighbors share close civilizational, cultural, and economic ties that go back centuries. Bhutan regards India as the Gyagar, or Holy Land because Buddhism originated in India, which is the religion practiced by the majority of Bhutanese. Both countries are proud of their relationship which is based on trust, shared cultural values, mutual respect, and partnership in sustainable development.

Relations between India and Bhutan are based on the pillars of trust, goodwill, and mutual understanding. The two neighbors share close civilizational, cultural, and economic ties that go back centuries. The basic framework of India-Bhutan relations is the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed between the two countries in 1949, which was renewed in 2007. India and Bhutan have multi-sectoral cooperation, India is Bhutan’s largest trading partner in trade and economic relations and remains a major source of investment in Bhutan. In 2021, India formalized the opening of seven new trade routes for Bhutan’s bilateral and transit trade with India. New market access was also granted to allow the formal export of 12 agri-products from Bhutan to India. In recent times digital cooperation and collaboration have taken place in new areas beyond the traditional scope of cooperation. For example the setting up of digital infrastructure such as the 3rd International Internet Gateway. In addition, the integration of Bhutan’s Drukren with India’s National Knowledge Network is a significant collaboration in the field of e-learning.
India is not only Bhutan’s largest development partner but also its most important trading partner, both as a source and market for its trade in goods and services. India not only provides a transit route to land-locked Bhutan but is also the largest market for many of Bhutan’s exports, including hydropower, semi-finished products, ferrosilicon, and dolomite. Under Financial Cooperation/Integration, the first phase of the RuPay project was launched in Bhutan. India’s Bharat Interface for Money was also launched in Bhutan in 2021. Space cooperation is a new and promising area of bilateral cooperation. Both the Prime Ministers of India and Nepal jointly inaugurated the ground earth station of the South Asia Satellite in Thimphu in 2019, which was built in collaboration with ISRO. In addition, the India-Bhutan SAT is slated to be launched into space by ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle in 2022.
Mutually beneficial hydropower cooperation with Bhutan is the core of bilateral economic cooperation. 4 Hydro Electric Projects (HEP) including Mangdechhu are already operational in Bhutan and supplying electricity to India. India and Bhutan have close bilateral cooperation in the educational and cultural fields for educational, cultural cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges. More than 950 scholarships are awarded annually by the Government of India for Bhutanese students to study in India in various disciplines including medicine, engineering, etc. Many Bhutanese pilgrims visit Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, Nalanda, Sikkim, Udayagiri, and other Buddhist sites in India.
Strengthening the strategic relationship, India stationed its Military Training Team in Bhutan in 1961 to train Bhutanese security forces has since been responsible for training Bhutanese security forces. Several activities relating to security and border management issues, threat perception, coordination of India-Bhutan border entry/exit points, and real-time information sharing among other aspects are being regularly undertaken by the two countries. Over time relations between India and Bhutan have matured into a comprehensive partnership and cooperation on a wide range of issues including energy security, trade and business, security and intelligence sharing, digitization, space technology, and conservation biology sectors. India has always stood by Bhutan in times of adversity and challenges past and Bhutan has acknowledged this. As a friendly and helpful neighbor, India has been responsive to Bhutan’s needs, exemplified by the support extended to Bhutan from time to time, supplying essential goods and services and whatever is required.
Harmonious and sustainable relations between India and Bhutan require addressing certain issues such as the China factor. The country’s geo-strategic location makes Bhutan very important in India’s perception of national security. The possibility of a boundary settlement between China and Bhutan should be seen in the light of its implications for India’s strategic interests in the region. One of the issues pointed out by experts is India’s paternalistic attitude towards Bhutan. A crisis in India-Bhutan relations erupted in 2013 over India’s alleged attempt to thwart the Bhutanese bid to diversify its foreign policy. Interference in internal politics Critics argue that there has been interference from India in Bhutan’s internal politics at times. Experts argue that the economic benefits of cooperation on hydroelectric projects reduce Has come Interest rates have risen and profits per unit of electricity have plummeted, leading to a large increase in Bhutan’s debt.
Relations between India and Bhutan are based on the pillars of trust, goodwill, and mutual understanding. The two neighbors share close civilizational, cultural, and economic ties that go back centuries. Bhutan regards India as the Gyagar, or Holy Land because Buddhism originated in India, which is the religion practiced by the majority of Bhutanese. India as a friendly and helpful neighbor has been responsive to the needs of Bhutan. Bhutan plays a very important role in India’s foreign policy and is strategically important to India. Therefore, further steps should be taken to maintain a lasting relationship while addressing the above issues.

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