Bhutan’s connections with India span many centuries, particularly in the realms of religion, culture, and history. India, known as the birthplace of Lord Buddha, serves as the wellspring of our spiritual heritage, which forms the essence of Bhutanese identity. While historical records suggest that Bhutan’s association with India commenced after India gained independence from the British, marked by milestones such as the Third Druk Gyalpo’s visit to India in 1954 as the Chief Guest for India’s Republic Day and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Bhutan in 1958, Bhutanese and Indians, particularly in the border areas, shared bonds akin to those of family long before.
Nevertheless, high-level visits from both New Delhi and Thimphu continued to fortify Indo-Bhutan ties. Currently, His Majesty the King is visiting India, including the neighboring Indian state of Assam, an event that will further invigorate the time-honored relations between the two nations.
Since ascending to the throne, His Majesty has underscored the exceptional nature of Bhutan-India relations. During the visit to India in 2009, His Majesty conveyed to the Indian media the significance Bhutan attaches to the friendship with India. It also reflected His Majesty’s unwavering commitment to strengthening “the special ties of cooperation and friendship that exist between our two countries.” His Majesty expressed, “One of the things that I must emphasize is that I am a friend of India and will always remain a friend.”
Covering the visit, The Tribune, in its December 22, 2009 issue, noted, “India cannot afford to underestimate its relationship with Bhutan.” The Pioneer, in its December 24, 2009 issue, reported, “Steadfast friends, India and Bhutan have reasons to smile.”
On January 24, 2013, during a banquet hosted in His Majesty’s honor by the President of India, His Majesty stated, “The destiny of Bhutan is intimately entwined with that of India, and it is in our mutual interests to further strengthen the bonds of friendship and understanding.”
From the Indian perspective, this relationship has always been deemed important and mutually advantageous. Pandit Nehru’s historic speech still resonates today. “Some may think that, since India is a great and powerful country and Bhutan is a small one, the former might wish to exert pressure on Bhutan. ……We are members of the same Himalayan family and should live as friendly neighbors, supporting one another. The freedom of both Bhutan and India should be safeguarded to prevent external harm.”
In 1971, when Lyonpo Pema Wangchuk (Late) presented his credentials, President V.V. Giri of India stated, “… Our relationship with Bhutan is of a very special nature, as sacred and steadfast as the Himalayas themselves. Geography, history, religion, and culture have bound our destinies together.”
Governments in both India and Bhutan change, yet the relationship continues to strengthen. Bhutan was the first country Prime Minister Modi visited after assuming office in 2014. Several Indian dignitaries, including the late Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, visited Bhutan. Following the Royal Wedding in 2011, Their Majesties chose India as the destination for their royal honeymoon. Additionally, His Royal Highness, Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck, made his first visit outside Bhutan to India.
In 2006, after donning the Raven Crown, His Majesty the King’s first international visit was to India on February 7, 2007. During this visit, His Majesty remarked, “We have indeed come a long way from the inception of our friendship, starting with the challenging yet deeply personal and intimate journey of Pandit Nehru to Bhutan in 1958, to my very first foreign visit as King to India.”
The current visit will further enhance Bhutan-India relations, expanding cooperation into new areas.
Sangay Rabten from Thimphu