Explained: The Dynamic of Indo-Bhutan Relations After 2007

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Relations between two countries are more than the treaty dictates. They are age old, extremely friendly in character. They have been nourished and consolidated by close contact between the leadership and people of the two countries.

Chandigarh (ABC Live): The Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck reached New Delhi today on three days visit.

As per insiders the main aim of Bhutanese King is to subdue the heat generated in bilateral relations by Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering statement that China has an equal say in resolving the 2017 border dispute.

The ABC Research team working on Bhutan refers an article written by Tshewang Dema published by Social Law Today on The Dynamic Nature of Indo-Bhutan Relations says as under;

The article write by Tshewang Dema says;

Although in 1949, India recognized the full sovereign status of Bhutan and the treaty of 1949 was freely negotiated by Bhutan, but time and again, demands of its review have taken place considerably. The essence of the criticism is that it does not permit full autonomy to Bhutan in the regulations of her external relations. It has “formalised the imperial bequest” and nipped in the bud Bhutan’s aspirations to carve out its own future in equal partnership with neighbours. The treaty it is said has affected Bhutan’s status ever since it was signed.

Article 2 are regarded by many as an instrument to dilute Bhutan’s sovereignty and many treat it as an unequal treaty.  It was for nothing that in 1960, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck has asserted, “We are not a hundred per cent independent because of 1949 treaty”.  During the regime of Janta Party’s Government led by Mr Charan Singh, Bhutan made its displeasure known when Foreign Secretary, Mr S.N.Mishra visited Bhutan. Bhutan took a stringent line on the treaty of 1949 and projected the need to revise it. In September 1979, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in his Harare speech said, “that he wished the Indo-Bhutanese treaty of 1949 to be updated”.

As already mentioned, the treaty of 1949 contained Article 2 by virtue of which Bhutan was guided by India in international relations. This was always seen as a limit to the political sovereignty of Bhutan.

The treaty of 1949 which provides a legal basis to the special relationship between India and Bhutan has, in a way, become obsolete. It neither gives a complete picture of the whole gamut of Indo-Bhutan relations nor of the role and perception of Bhutan as a national actor. Because of the developments within Bhutan and in the region the character of the Himalayan Kingdom has undergone a sea change and so on the relationship between India and Bhutan have grown much beyond the latter spirit of the treaty of 1949.

However, there are Indian analysts who believe that Article 2 was never invoked and as such it is irrelevant for India to retain its influence. Instead, the Clause has been a sort of a burden; for India being accused by adversarial forces as “hegemonic and expansionist ambitions”. It would be for the best interest for both India and Bhutan to update the treaty.

A Fresh Beginning: Treaty of 2007 And Indo-Bhutan Relations

The updated India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty was signed on 8 February 2007 between Pranab Mukherjee, the then India’s Minister of External Affairs, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, the then Crown Prince and now King of Bhutan.

This treaty brought two significant changes in the earlier existing treaty of 1949 between the two countries.

Firstly, Article 2 of the India- Bhutan Treaty of 1949 is reformulated in the updated treat to the satisfaction of Bhutan.

Article 2 of the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty 2007 reads as follows:   In keeping with  the abiding ties  of close friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and India, the Government of the Kingdom of Bhutan and  the  Government  of  the  Republic  of  India shall cooperate closely with each other on issues relating  to  their  national  interests.  Neither Government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other.

 The revised or updated Article 2 of the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty 2007 gives enough space for Bhutan to conduct her foreign relations independent of India’s advice. Now, technically, Bhutan does not need to seek the permission of India to establish direct diplomatic relations with third countries.

Secondly, article 4 of the new treaty also permits Bhutan to import arms, immunities etc., which are essential to strengthen the security of Bhutan in consultation with India. However, this arrangement shall hold well 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 importations. 

 Apart from these changes, the treaty also talked about perpetual peace and friendship along with the decision that neither of the government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest to others. 

The treaty also talked about closer trade, commerce economic and cultural cooperation.  Further, it was also agreed that any differences and disputes arising in the interpretation and application of the treaty shall  be settled bilaterally by negotiations in a spirit of trust and misunderstanding in consonance with the historically close ties of friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation that form the bedrock of Bhutan –India relations.

A Conclusion Based On Juxtaposition; Treaty of 1949 And 2007

The 1949 Friendship Treaty since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck has guided the contemporary Indo-Bhutan relationship.

The treaty insured non-interference by India in Bhutan’s internal affairs and inter alia Article 2 of the treaty that entrusted India to guide Bhutan’s foreign policy was most significant.  Although, it was a set of bureaucratically defined framework for their relationship, however, it did embed values of trust and equality.

This spirit kept the relationship moving unhindered.  Various forms of phrases such as “special relations”, “privileged relations” and “strategic alliance” and so on so forth were used for signifying the depth of bilateral ties.

Relations between two countries are more than the treaty dictates. They are age old, extremely friendly in character. They have been nourished and consolidated by close contact between the leadership and people of the two countries.

The India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty, which was redrafted and signed in 2007, set the bilateral relations on a new course signifying the two countries mutual trust. The amendment was to exemplify the trust and maturity of the relationship and to meet the needs of 21st century political reality.

The revised or updated treaty gives enough space for Bhutan to conduct her foreign relations independent of India’s advice. This treaty does not have the imperial trapping like the previous 1949 treaty.

It has laid the basis for a relationship that is responsive to each other’s national interests, a relationship that is consultative, and a relationship that ensures mutually beneficial cooperation.

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