Jul 062017

Dr. Debamitra Mitra (2010), Indo- Bhutan Relations: Political process, Conflict and Crisis, New Delhi: Academic Excellence publishers, 360 pp, Price- 950/-


Roshna Devi

PhD Research scholar

Department of Political Science,

NEHU Shillong



The book Indo- Bhutan Relations: Political process, Conflict and Crisis, authored by Dr. Debamitra Mitra deals with the Indo Bhutan bilateral relations from history to the present time.  Bilateral relations by its very nature involve both the countries. It follows that it is not possible for just one country to promote positive bilateral relationship unless the other country responds adequately. Bilateralism entails a measure of reciprocity and mutuality of interests. By focusing on such attributes this book included twelve chapters where different issues such as political relations, friendship treaties, economic relations, security aspects etc have been discussed in the context of Indo-Bhutan relations.

The first chapter of the book is related with the some basic observations related to nature and scope of the work, where the writer mentioned that in the colonial period the relationship between Bhutan and British India had been drastically changed. During this time Bhutan had signed various treaties with the Britishers for security purposes. What is important to note that during the time of India’s freedom struggle movement the Bhutanese monarch adopted a pro British policy and supported the colonial rule in India. However, after the departure of Britishers from India, Bhutan slowly started to develop a close relationship with independent India. Since 1949 India and Bhutan develop their ties in different areas such as commerce, power, education, infrastructure etc. Here the writer gives an introduction of India -Bhutan bilateral relations.      

            The second chapter of the book deals with the geopolitical environment of Bhutan with its early history. Bhutan as a landlocked country lies within the great Himalayas. It has a rich natural resource and the higher mountains have fragmented the country into two subdivisions both administratively and ethnographically. The early history of Bhutan according to writer is covered by mystery. The visit of Padsambhaba the saint from India to Bhutan was related with introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan.  It also focuses on different stages of political relations of Bhutan with colonial India, related to the British annexation of large areas of Bhutan’s Dooars adjoining Assam and Bengal. The author also highlights the various stages of political development between India and Bhutan from colonial to independence period. 

Chapter 3 of the book is related with the India- Bhutan treaty of 1949, as a continuing the relationship between India with Bhutan since the colonial rule. As after the end of British rule in India, Bhutan became uncomfortable regarding its status as an independent nation. Even when cabinet mission came to India in 1946, the Bhutanese demanded the sovereign status of the country since it is not a part of a British colonial rule. The Indian leadership gave due consideration to the demand of Bhutan and accepts the status of Bhutan as a sovereign state and updated the earlier treaty of 1910 in the year 1949. This treaty has been regarded as the important event to shape the bilateral relationship between the two countries. Though India has criticized of being act like a big brother with the right to guide Bhutan in its external affairs under article 2 of the friendship treaty of 1949, but Bhutan did not opposed the clause of the treaty to be guided by India. Here, the Chinese influence is also discussed to criticize the treaty as an unfair way of India to exert control over Bhutan. However, such allegation did not create any hurdle in India- Bhutan bilateral relationship. The writer also throws light on the aspect that a section of people continuously demanded to update the treaty of 1949 for the freedom of Bhutan to take independent decision on its foreign policy matters.

Chapter 4 is related with the ethnic problem of Bhutan which has been started in 1980s. The Nepali ethnic group of Bhutan starts an ethnic movement against the king as argued by them due to suppression of their ethnic identity. The main demand of this ethnic group was to establish democracy in Bhutan; they strongly opposed the rule of monarch. Destruction of public property, attack on police persons, burning of government institution resulted a war like situation in the country. The king’s initiative to stop the influx of illegal Nepali migrants and thrown out the foreigners from the country creates hue and cry like situation. The internal ethnic problem also spread in country like India and Nepal, where there are also large number of Nepali people.    Many Nepali people left their places and take shelter in refugee camps of Nepal.  Though Nepal and its political elite throughout the conflict supported the Nepali people of its origin, India from its part maintained silence on this issue. For India the ethnic conflict is an internal problem of Bhutan, hence interference of this issue will violate the non- interference clause of the friendship treaty of 1949.  The involvement of Nepal and its effort to internationalize the refugee issue has worsened the relationship between Bhutan and Nepal. Bhutan from its part did not agree to return those Nepalese who were migrated illegally to the country after 1958. Later on various human rights organizations and third countries get involved in solving the problem of Nepali refugees.

Chapter 5 and 6 of the book deals with the trade relations between India and Bhutan. While the former chapter included the trade relations between the two countries from the period of 1949 to 1990, the latter discussed about the trade relations after the period of 1990.  Chapter 5 starts with the trade relations between British India and Bhutan, where it has been mentioned that before the Sinchula treaty there was no stable trade relations between the two. The treaty somehow normalizes trade relations. After independence, India Bhutan trade relation has been guided by the article no 5th of 1949s friendship treaty. According to which a free trade and commerce relation has been established between the countries. Later on various agreements and trade treaties has been signed between the two states which provided for cooperation in the various field such as commerce and industry, import and export of goods, providing various routes to Bhutan for trading, foreign exchange etc. The main argument of the writer is that unlike British rule where Bhutan was merely treated as a gateway to reach Tibet, after independence India gives due importance to Bhutan as an independent entity and builds such a strong trade relations that it become a main pillar of bilateral relations. From 1990 onwards the relations become stronger; Bhutan’s export to India had been marked as remarkably high in compare to other decades. It has also discussed in the book that from 1990 onwards due to the impact of globalization both the countries become beneficial in trade areas. 

Chapter 7 of this book is related with the infrastructural development of Bhutan; here main focus has been given on India’s role as a close ally to Bhutan. Here the author argues that modernization and development process in Bhutan was primarily started by India with the approval from the king of Bhutan. After the historic visit of Nehru to Bhutan in 1958 clears all clouds of suspension and a new era of bilateralism has started between the states. As both the country faced the same security threat from China, thus become a close ally to perceive the threat from the communist state. India throughout the years related with the development process of Bhutan in the form of construction of road and airport, bridges, hydel power projects, industries, animal husbandry, telecommunications, Bhutan’s five-year plans, etc.

The eighth chapter is related with hydel projects constructed in Bhutan which has serve as a link of bilateral relation between India and Bhutan. The writer also focuses on the aspect how Harness Rivers of any country can used as a mean of economic development with definite plan and programme. In case of Bhutan such harness rivers is a gift of nature, which leads to the economic progress of the country. Despite having the problem of manpower and technological knowledge by joining hands with India, Bhutan become successful to construct various hydel projects which ultimately resulted in the economic prosperity of the nation. From Indian side, construction of such hydel project in Bhutan is beneficial since it related with solving the issue of scarcity of electricity at various parts of the region with a minimum level of cost. So it can be described as a win-win situation for both the countries. However the writer specifically mentioned that since India is the only importer of Bhutan’s hydropower, hence Bhutan thinks that its bargaining power is very limited. Similarly Bhutan does not have the monetary, technology and manpower to single handedly generates hydropower. However such issue does not jeopardize India’s alliance with Bhutan, the success story of one hydropower plant leads to construction of another.

Chapter nine titled as India-Bhutan and ULFA-Bodo problem deals with the issue of terrorism. As discussed by the writer, ULFA and NDFB were two separatist groups of Assam, who were carrying out their anti- Indian activities in the name of freedom fight against the centre. While one hand the ULFA fought for independent status of Assam from the mainland India, on the other hand NDFB’s demand is to form separate Bodo state named as Bodoland for their people. When these terrorist groups engaged in mass killing and violent activities, a strong military action was undertaken by the government against the terrorist groups which compels them to take asylum in neighbouring countries. These terrorist groups of NE region of India due to the open boundary system between India and Bhutan easily reached to Bhutan and took shelter in the dark forests of the country. Though at first Bhutan did not pay due attention to the urge of India to thrown out the militants camps from the country but later on it feel that  presence of such militants groups in Bhutan, not only create a security threat for India but the former also have to face the  violent activities of these groups. For this reason, both the countries decided to launch an operation against the militants, which is named as Operation All Clear in 2003. With this, both the counties become successful to thrown out the bases of the militants from Bhutan.

The chapter 10 entitled India and Bhutan in international and regional organizations deals with Bhutan’s interest to develop relations with the various countries of the world. Whether it is SAARC, NAM, UN or Colombo plan Bhutan has joined such organizations with the help of India. To join in these organizations is considered as an important aspect for Bhutan since it somehow develop a outlook that Bhutan will get wider recognition as a landlocked country of the Himalayan region as well as it wants to work for regional cooperation and for world peace. Here the writer argues that though Bhutan enters in such organizations by holding the hand of India but it does not mean that Bhutan does not have any right to take its own decisions. Even in some matters Bhutan and India act in a different way whether it the case of signing the NPT or in the Albanian issue. India on its side does not pressurized Bhutan to act according to wish of the former; rather it respects the right of Bhutan to take any decision by its own. Perhaps that is the reason why in this complex world India and Bhutan has successful to maintain their cordial relations despite the Chinese efforts to ruin it.

Chapter 11 of the book is related with India Bhutan neighborliness, which reflects the fact that both the countries share a close proximity with each other despite having various problems. In this chapter, the writer briefly discusses about China as factor in India- Bhutan relationship. It has clearly mentioned by the author that unlike Nepal, Bhutan does not use China card policy to create problem for India. Rather Bhutan having a boundary problem with China still tries to manage normalized the relation with it.  Such distance between China and Bhutan, brings India and Bhutan more close to each other. Here, the writer argues that the great Himalaya is not a barrier in the context of India Bhutan relations. Rather it serves as a bridge to connect the two states in such a manner where mutual trust and cooperation exists between these two countries.

Chapter 12 is titled as Bhutan’s strive for democracy is related with Bhutan’s political reform from monarchy to democracy. As discussed by the writer in this chapter democracy is a gift from the king of Bhutan to its people, it is a deliberate act of the king to transfer the power from him to the people, where the king become the constitutional head and the representative form of government become the real head . Unlike the case of Nepal, one of the neighbouring state of Bhutan where there was a conflict between the king and people regarding the devolution of power, Bhutan shows a  example that a king always think for his people first by sidelining his personal gains. Hence, Bhutan has successful to portray itself as unique country of the world where bloodless transition of power from king to people becomes a reality. India from its part welcomes the democratic transformation of Bhutan with a hope that the new form of government will take the India- Bhutan relations into a higher level.

With this writing, there is no doubt that the writer has contributed one of the significant work in the literature of India- Bhutan relationship. The book is a well description of India Bhutan bilateral relation since ancient to present time. However, we cannot deny the fact that the book has written mainly to focus on the history of India- Bhutan relations. Since the book is written in the year 2010 so it could include a chapter on India- Bhutan friendship treaty of 2007 which is considered as a landmark event to guide the relations between the two countries in near future. . Overall it is a very well written as well as thoroughly researched book on India Bhutan relationship.


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