The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Not Thrilled By New Treaty Hari Prasad Adhikari

The fifth king of Bhutan, Jigme Kheshar Namgyal Wangchuk (KJKNW), is at the threshold of getting an official coronation. In all probability, on November 6 this year, he will be crowned, though he has been king of Bhutan since December 14, 2007. Before taking up the king’s charge, he clandestinely visited New Delhi to get the blessing from Delhi Durbar. He was accompanied by his maternal uncle Sangye Nidup, the then Agriculture Minister of Bhutan.


Within a span of a few months, he again visited India officially to sign the so-called revised India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 2007. The Bhutanese people had been waiting since the third king’s tenure to replace the old treaty. In order to put pressure on the Indian government to revise the treaty of 1949, the Bhutanese people adopted a self-reliance policy to reduce Bhutan’s dependence on India.

On the other hand, they suggested mobilising international aid, in place of major Indian aid, in key development projects. But King Jigme Singye Wangchuk could not keep this policy for long. He slipped and got trapped into the marsh of Indian diplomacy. Prematurely, he signed several hydro projects at lesser market cost. He sold about half a dozen power projects to India at dirt cheap rates, the brunt of this loss being born by the innocent population of Bhutan. On top of this, he adopted the Drukpa (sub sect of Kayukpa of Mahayana Buddhism) nationalism, ignoring the majority Nyigmapa (other section of Mahayana Buddhism) and Hinduism.

Hydro electrical projects became the influential instrument to keep the absolute monarchy intact and a means to review the friendship treaty with India. Unfortunately it failed to achieve the goal as desired by the people of Bhutan. To elaborate on this point, the following key paragraphs of the 1949 treaty are reproduced along with the new treaty.

(1) "The government of India undertakes to exercise no interference in the internal administration of Bhutan. On its part, the government of Bhutan agrees to be guided by the advice of the government of India in regard to external relations." ( 6) "The government of India agrees that the government of Bhutan shall be free to import, with the assistance and approval of the government of India from or through India into Bhutan, whatever arms, ammunition, machinery, warlike materials or store may be require or desired for the strength and welfare of Bhutan, and that this arrangement shall hold good for all time as long as the government of India is satisfied that the intentions of the government of Bhutan are friendly and that there is no danger to India from such importation." (This article has remained almost as it is in the new one, too).

(7) "The government of India and government of Bhutan agree that the Bhutanese subjects residing in Indian territories shall have equal justice with Indian subjects and the Indian subjects residing in Bhutan shall have equal justice with the subjects of the government of Bhutan." (9) "Any differences and disputes arising in the application or interpretation of this treaty shall in the first instance be settled by negotiation. If within three months of the start of the negotiation no settlement is arrived at, then the matter shall be referred to arbitration of three arbitrators, who shall be nationals of either India or Bhutan chosen in the following manner: (1) One person nominated by government of India; (2) one person nominated by government of Bhutan; (3) A judge of the federal court, or of a high court in India to be chosen by the government of Bhutan, who shall be chairman. The judgment of this tribunal shall be final and executed without delay by either party.

All the above objectionable clauses, sentences and paragraphs are veiled and have been made even stronger than before by the new treaty. The new treaty has added and replaced the following key paragraphs in the so-called Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 2007 signed by King Jigme Kheshar Namgyal Wangchuk himself for his coronation in which he needed India’s support.

For instance, (from paragraph 3-6 in the Preamble of the 2007 treaty) "Recalling the historical relations that have existed between the two countries; Recognising with deep satisfaction the manner in which these relations have evolved, matured over the years into a model of good neighbourly relation; Being fully committed to further strengthening this enduring and mutually beneficial relationship based on genuine good will and friendship, shared interest, and close understanding and cooperation; Desiring to clearly reflect this exemplary relationship as it stands today; and having decided, through mutual consent, to update the 1949 treaty relating to the promotion of, fostering the relation of friendship and neighbourliness between India and Bhutan; Have agreed as follows ( Article 1) There shall be perpetual peace and friendship between India and Bhutan . (2) In keeping with the abiding ties, the close friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and India, the government of the Kingdom of Bhutan and Republican India shall cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interest. Neither government shall allow the use of territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other.

(9)Any difference and dispute arising in the interpretation and application of this treaty shall be settled bilaterally by negotiation in a spirit of trust and understanding in consonance with the historically close ties of friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation from the bedrock of Bhutan-India relation."

People’s confidence

If all these tactics were not for the reward, the people of Bhutan would have been taken into confidence, instead of the kings, while signing the treaties.

(Adhikari is a former National Assembly member of Bhutan)

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