Bhutan is Changing

Bhutan’s constitution was signed in 2008. At the 2008 elections, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) won 45 of 47 seats and the PDP won 2 seats. With the kingdom embracing democracy, the 1949 India-Bhutan Treaty was revised, giving Bhutan freedom to pursue an independent foreign policy. The revision of the treaty enabled the DPT government to extend Bhutan’s diplomatic ties from 21 to 53 countries, between 2008 and 2013. Thimpu took geo-political realities into consideration, while expanding its diplomacy across the globe. India did not take kindly to the alleged use of Chinese experts to install heavy machinery in Bhutan. Bhutan’s stated policy has been that it would not allow the UN Big Five powers, to have diplomatic missions in Thimpu. But Bhutan circumvented this by allowing a Briton to act as United Kingdom’s consul in capital Thimpu, and subsequently giving him Bhutanese citizenship. India-Bhutan bilateral ties were further strained when the then prime minister of Bhutan, Jigmi Thinley met the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in 2012, in Brazil which India maintains as ‘‘pre-arranged’’, though Thimpu projects it as an ‘‘impromptu interaction’’. Given that all Bhutanese kings have been great protagonists of India-Bhutan friendship, New Delhi’s invitation to the King of Bhutan to the 2013 Republic Day ceremony, signalled a desire to deal directly with the palace and the people. Amid reports of friction to the India-Bhutan friendship, India has recently cut cooking gas and kerosene subsidies for Bhutan. Indian Oil Corporation has announced raised prices for Thimpu, hopefully to send a message to Bhutan that India won’t tolerate the crossing of ‘red line’.

India’s union ministry of external affairs has given Rs 300 crore to Bhutan’s government in June 2013, as excise duty reversion. Over half of the external affairs ministry’s budget goes to Bhutan, and this does not include the amount given for hydro-electric projects. The MEA suspects that large amounts of money are leaking out in the development assistance, while costs are inflated several times. In the July 2013 Bhutan parliamentary elections, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has won 32 seats in the 47-member National Assembly. The sudden rise in fuel prices, after India’s withdrawal of fuel subsidies affected Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness adversely, and hugely influenced the anti-incumbency vote. Bhutan’s new Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, Harvard educated, is aware of India’s interests and sensibilities. Roads in Bhutan are maintained by the Indian army’s Border Roads Organization. The ground reality is that the political landscape of Bhutan is changing very fast but New Delhi is reluctant to recognize it. They continue to see Bhutan as a protectorate!

Vol. 46, No. 10, Sep 15 - 21, 2013

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