Analyzing Recent Developments in India-Bhutan Relations by Portia Conrad


This year witnessed a series of state and high-level visits between India and Bhutan. The recent visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan H.E. Lyonpo (Dr.) Tandi Dorji to New Delhi, between 17 and 23 November 2019, is said to have reviewed the entire gamut of India-Bhutan relations. The visit was preceding the 2nd Annual India-Bhutan Development Cooperation Talks, where the Indian delegation was led by Mr. T.S. Tirumurti, Secretary (Economic Relations), Ministry of External Affairs, and the Bhutanese delegation was led by Mr. Kinga Singye, Foreign Secretary of Bhutan. More significantly, in August 2019, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi visited Bhutan to inaugurate the Mangdhechu HEP and Ground Earth Station for South Asia Satellite and launch the RuPay card, while the Prime Minister of Bhutan Dr. Lotay Tshering came to India in May 2019 for the swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. These political engagements and other developments have facilitated a new phase in the bilateral relationship between India and Bhutan.

Official communications indicate that Government of India has committed assistance of Rs. 4500 Crore for implementation of development projects and Rs. 400 Crore for transitional Trade Support Facility during Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan (2018-2023); wherein 51 large and intermediate projects and 359 Small Development Projects (SDPs)/High Impact Community Development Projects (HICPDs) are at various stages of implementation. In addition, India’s ties with the Bhutanese political and military elite and especially its monarchy have been strong. Its role in the Bhutanese economy and infrastructure development as well as its extension of scholarships to Bhutanese students to study in India is appreciated.

While revisiting the bilateral affairs is claimed to be an annual task, the timing of churning the relations remains significant. Bhutan is central to India’s two major policies – the ‘Neighborhood First Policy’ and the ‘Act-East Policy’. India should further take concrete efforts to address economic and other grievances on the part of Bhutan to reach a new height in the future. A number of institutional mechanisms between India and Bhutan in areas such as security, border management, trade, transit, economic, hydro-power, development cooperation, water resources continue and there is sufficient scope to enhance the ties. In its relations with India, especially since the late 1950s, Bhutan has repeatedly made efforts to assert its independent identity and often expressed the desire to reduce its overdependence on the former. A politically stable Bhutan is important to India. An unstable and restive Bhutan would not only jeopardize India’s investments in that country but also provide a safe haven for anti-India activities.