Time for a new beginning

Speaking on the occasion of India’s 74th Republic Day on January 26, 2023, the Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, His Excellency Sudhakar Dalela, highlighted the exemplary ties of friendship and cooperation that exists between Bhutan and India, bed-rocked, on “utmost goodwill, mutual trust, and understanding at all levels”. He also spoke about India’s commitment to expand the existing ties and venture into “new areas of cooperation that align with the vision of His Majesty the King of Bhutan and the priorities of Royal Government of Bhutan.” The day also saw Bhutanese leaders, including the Prime Minister convey good wishes to India and her people.

For any scholar, a write-up on Indo-Bhutan relations would be an epic. Though development cooperation began only after the initiation of the first five year plan in 1961, the relation transcends 1947, the year India became independent from the then British Raj. Cultural ties can go back to the times of the Buddha.

The relation has flourished and together with it the areas of collaboration. And as rightly said by the Indian Ambassador to Bhutan, the existing ties should expand into areas that are new. For, India is not the India of 1947 and neither is Bhutan. With innovations in technology transcending into areas that were once considered fairy tales, globalization and the dynamics of global politics, both countries cannot just bask in the glory of the past and present. The future should be the diktat and so should the areas of partnership. And the future is primarily technology and economy.

India is a giant in both areas and the fact that Bhutan has benefited from India’s economic and technological growth cannot be questioned. Neither can we counter the fact that Bhutan will continue to benefit. While definite papers on Indian assistance to Bhutan for the 13th Plan has not come out, there are some projects already on the list. The assured Third Internet Gateway and the railway connectivity from the Indian state of Assam to Bhutan are but few examples.

Relations are accompanied by minor tussles. It would be absurd on the part of both countries to consider that Indo-Bhutan ties should be immaculate and a flawless one. There will also be times when one country is not comfortable with the actions of another. Nonetheless, it would also be petty on the part of both governments to ever think that one is acting against the national interests of another. Time has brought the two countries to a juncture, where one’s success and failure are interlinked. If Bhutan progresses, it will benefit India and vice-versa.

However, this time tested excellent relation should not be taken for granted. Nor should it be adulterated. As we move further into a new world without boundaries, collaboration should be in areas that are crucial and as per the need of the hour. We ought to move away from just hydro power and roads. It is a different world; so should the fields of collaboration be.