Bhutan Elections: A case of India’s diplomatic bankruptcy!

By Anand Swaroop Verma

The recently concluded second general election in Bhutan on July 13 has once again exposed the bankruptcy of India’s foreign policy. This election saw the defeat of ruling incumbent Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) at the hands of main opposition party Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), which secured 35 votes against 12 votes of DPT. It must be noted that in the National Assembly’s primary election held on May 31, DPT got 33 votes as compared to 12 of PDP. The other two parties that took part in primary election namely Druk Namdruk Tshogpa (DNT) and Druk Chirwang Tshogpa(DCT) got two and none respectively. As per Bhutan’s constitution, the final election is held between winner and runner-up of primary elections. It is very striking to note as to what happened within just one and a half month from May 31 to July 13 that DPT lost its electoral base and finally lost to PDP.

In fact, the Government of India had stopped subsidizing kerosene and cooking gas for Bhutan in the first week of July. It is interesting to know that this sanction did not originate from financial constraints or whatsoever of the Indian Oil Corporation rather directed by the external affairs ministry of GOI. Actually, Indian government was unhappy with DPT leader and Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley because it held that Thinley was arbitrarily running his foreign affairs. On the other hand, supporters of Thinley argued that regardless of being neighbor to a big country and receiving economic support from it, any sovereign nation does not lose its universal right to decide its foreign affairs. It is to be reminded that although there was a provision in the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 1949 that Bhutan would run its foreign policy on India’s advice, but the renewed treaty of 2007 had omitted the clause after which Bhutan became independent to shape its foreign policy at its own end. It is a different scenario altogether that still there are many official and unofficial arrangements that ensure whoever is in power there will have to abide by the interests of India while shaping Bhutan’s internal and external policies. Prime Minister Thinley was obviously well aware of this so he did nothing during his tenure that could possibly thwart India’s security concerns.

Then what is the reason behind India’s resentment? The conundrum is rooted in an international convention held last year in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro where Bhutan’s PM Thinley had an informal chat with the then Chinese Premier. China is Bhutan’s immediate neighbor other than India despite this was the first meeting between both heads of governments. India’s stance towards Bhutan changed in this backdrop when external affairs officials started talking off the record that Bhutan was now getting out of control. Since Bhutan’s all ten five-year plans till date have been supported by India and many hydel projects too are dependent on India’s aid (benefitting India only), so it was indigestible for India to see Bhutan getting close with China. It was not just the meeting of leaders but procurement of 15 Chinese buses by Bhutan in particular that invited India’s ire.

The issue is not confined to relations with China alone. India never wants Bhutan to foster relations with any country. Bhutan had diplomatic relations with 22 countries until 2008 that flourished in Thinley’s regime and number increased to 53. Bhutan has no diplomatic relation with China until date but India is wary of the possibility in future as Bhutan-China border dispute is largely sorted out now. Indian government is aware of Chinese plan to lay rail line up to Chumbi Valley located at the interjection of India (Sikkim)-Bhutan-China (Tibet) and the very day this project is completed; Bhutan will become free from the obligation that arises due to its three-sided land locked territory from India. This rail line project is inevitable as China is pressing hard on it. India would have accepted this situation in advance and framed its strategy accordingly but this is sheer bankruptcy of its diplomacy that the country on which it has spent billions so far is now being pushed to a politically amphibious state.

Apart from cutting subsidy on oil and gas to Bhutan, India has also announced nonpayment of excise duty refund and scrapping subsidy on power generated from Chukha hydel project. India has argued that due to economic reasons it has scrapped subsidy in its various sectors too, but people of Bhutan are not easily convinced with this logic. They know that amounts saved by cutting subsidy in a country of more than a billion and Bhutan, that has a mere 6-7 lac population, are not comparable. This is insignificant for India. Bhutanese people have perceived this as an arm twisting tactics of Indian establishment and India through its move just on the eve of elections has reached out with the message that they will have to face more sanctions if they vote back Thinley’s party DPT to power. In response to resenting Bhutanese people, external affairs ministry of India had assured that the issue would be resolved through bilateral talks with the new government. This was a clear indication of regime change in Bhutan and its citizens did no mistake to read this in true context.

The reaction to India’s move in Bhutan cannot be termed as healthy and positive in the bilateral relations. Indian establishment will have to pay a price for this eventually. Wangcha Sangye, a popular blogger of Bhutan wrote in his blog:

“National interests of Bhutan have to rise over and above the politics of always playing the Indian tune. We are not just good neighbors of India. We are a good and reliable friend of India. But Bhutan and Bhutanese are sovereignty unto our self. Therefore Bhutan’s paramount national interests and affairs just cannot be only pleasing India. We have to please ourselves too!”

He made scathing comments in the same blog further, “Why do Indian media and politicians want to castrate Bhutan for the most harmless relationship effort with China? Just the other day, I heard a rumour of a bureaucrat of India chastising Bhutanese leadership of being “dishonest”. What the hell is that suppose to mean? Which national leaders and governments bare its soul to another nation? We are not paid sex workers that benefactors need to know when our eyelashes and asses move and in which direction”.

Wangcha Sangye has expressed the sentiments of Bhutanese people through his blog. After the elections I talked to one of my acquaintances in Phuentsholing (Bhutan) who is a supporter of DPT. He told me that he too had voted in favor of PDP on July 13 because he was assured that if DPT returns to power, India will not roll back subsidy cuts. He said that there was a further indication that India may stop aiding five-year plans too.

It must be recalled that more than one lakh Bhutanese people were ousted from the southern part of this country in 1990-91 when they had demanded democracy. India was hand in gloves with Bhutanese king in this act. It has took some time for Bhutanese citizens and left out Lhotsampas (Bhutanese people of Nepalese origin) in southern part to heal their wounds when they are again exposed to the tragic subsidy cut and anti-Thinley politics of India. PDP’s victory has although instilled a sense of satisfaction in India’s establishment and an interim assurance to the Bhutanese people that they will not be pauperized any more, but its consequences will prove to be unpleasant in the long run. India’s foreign policy makers will have to rethink over its mentality towards neighbors and realize the need to rectify it at the outset.

The author is a New Delhi based senior left-wing journalist and editor of Hindi journal ‘Samkaleen Teesari Duniya’.

One thought on “Bhutan Elections: A case of India’s diplomatic bankruptcy!

  • August 12, 2013 at 8:41 am


    This is in continuation to my earlier information sharing titled, “Why DPT lost to PDP?” It is my opinion that people must be informed about the mockery of the election that has completely jeopardized the aspirations of JYT who dreamt to rule throughout his life with confidence based upon family ties through marriage of his son to the daughter of K4, which however fused in spite of his tireless efforts during the campaign.

    1. UgyenTshechhabDorji,younger brother of Sangye Nidup, the current President of the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry is the K5’s uncle. He played key role lobbying business community in Thimphu through his influence to vote for the PDP. He boasted that the PDP was established in the sole interest of the palace whereby PDP would have the authorities of the throne on land allotments, citizenship issues and giving raise to the pay for all the three armed forces and that everybody should vote for PDP.
    2. K5 personally visited Paro, Punakha, Ha, Wangdiphodrang, Trongsa and Bumthang in order to convince people in favor of PDP.While on his behalf, his Chamberlain visited families in the villages and distributed cash and assured that the PDP will be able to look into their social welfare needs. He commanded all elders and senior citizens to vote for PDP.
    In one of the meetings of K5 lobbying for PDP, former Agriculture Minister, the DPT member Dr. PemaGyamtsho was also present. He contacted former Prime Minister JYT, Yeshe Jimpa and KhandoWangchuk over telephone and conveyed his findings about the K5’s visit. Trio immediately approached K4 to report on the subject matter. However, recollecting generations of dedicated service to the kings, now being rewarded by K5 with deception, JYT and YesheJimpa fell into emotion and choked from voicing in the presence of K4. At that point of time KhanduWangchuk stepped forward to K4 and explained about the K5’s visit in Bumthang. K4 immediately telephoned K5 who was still in Bumthang and wanted him to return to the capital. On K5’s return to the capital, JYT, YesheJimpa, KhanduWangchuk and K4 met K5 and discussed on the matter. K5 responded with his flat answer that DPT has not sincere and had no respect towards the palace. So saying, he left the scene.
    3. The political affairs in charge of the K5’s secretariat and other officers were engaged in distributing lands and citizenship during the time of campaign. It was during that visit that the team also advised the people to vote for the PDP as it was actually the party established to support the palace. The team had told the people that the votes for 2013 election should go to PDP only. People were told that the candidates in the PDP were those assigned by the palace.
    4. All the officers in the armed forces and civil officers were politicized by convincing them of PDP being K5’s party and should be voted to win the election.
    5. Anonymous sources say that neither press media nor return officers could make sincere reporting on the malpractice of democracy during the election.
    6. All the postal ballots were manipulated or prepared on the instructions of their respective officers only.
    7. There were several cases of voters being transported on PDP expenses.
    8. All those reporting in the Times of India were made by the BCCI President UgyenTshechab who paid through Tenzin Lekphel, who is the General Secretary of Druk Nyamrup Tshokpa now enrolled with the PDP.

    Post-Election Reports
    People from Trashi Yangtse, who favored DPT lamented that the king had given the democracy as peoples right while in this second general election K5 himself has intervened and maneuvered votes in favor of PDP without giving rights to the people to choose their party to run the government. If the king wished to rule again, people will welcome to dissolve democracy. Let DPT also be dissolved and surrender to the palace once forever.
    During the general convention of the DPT on 18thJuly, 2013 at Thimphu, those assembled in the congregation did not hesitate to say that the election was but a total mockery maneuvered by K5 and invited for a call to change the king also. Thus in some corner of the hall, voices of Tenzin Lekphel supported by TsheringGyeltshen and echoed by people with the slogan, “Short live our King” and “we should burn down the constitution” were heard.

    Concluding remarks:
    One of the reasons for K5’s unhappiness with DPT was due to jealousy for being the person as a prime minister recognized globally by linking Bhutan with 31 countries in five years rule while the palace had been able to establish diplomatic relationship with 21 nations only.
    Therefore, K5 took help of Karma Ura supported by Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo and UgyenTshechhab contacted Indian media by paying incentives to write against JYT. In fact Bhutanomics is an entity initiated and being supported by UgyenTshechhab. The comments were manipulated in the name of Bhutanese and similar fake names.
    During 2008 election all the people in Bhutan speculated that giving votes in favor of PDP would mean the government like wine changing the bottle as the party was headed by Sangye Nidup. The 2013 election cheated the people by keeping Sangye Nidup behind the curtain by using his brother UgyenTshechab and nephew K5 supported by their coterie and the faithful palace dogs maneuvering the voting processes. Perhaps the end to the destiny of Bhutan to be ruled by hereditary monarchy is now coming to an end. Even the constitution was written by experts from India and handpicked some people as “Constitution Writing Committee” only to eyewash the world community. During K5’s constitution orientation visits with the people of Thimphu on 29thOct, 2005, he had said that the role of opposition in a democracy would be to keep check and balance on the ruling party to ensure that misuse of power like involving in the corruption and misuse of state properties to gain party’s interest should be kept under strict vigilance. The ruling party could use their power giving citizenships to illegal migrants which thus would need to be kept under control. Advocating that the constitution was made to best suit the needs of the people as a whole, people assembled to listen to K5 were not given any opportunities to make their suggestions. With king above the constitution, the future predicted in 2005 was perhaps this year of 2013 that manipulation of the process of election has been witnessed by the people not fearing for any lawful action as K5 himself got involved in the entire processes.
    In the end, post-election has brought about life threatening calls to JYT, Yeshi Jimpa, KhanduWangchuk, Dr. PemaJamtsho, Tenzin Rigden and TsheringGyaltshen from the K5 coteries.
    India’s urgent role under the direction of King in Bhutan’s General Election:
    Central Government of India had withdrawn the subsidy on the cooking LPG gas from the 1st July till 1st August with the word, it was happened due to DPT’s government was having good relation with Chaina. Why only for one Month? As Chaina will be always remain as northern neighbor of Bhutan and Bhutan should keep on talking all in polite with Chaina on the controversial northern border issues.

    By Karma Wangchuk, Thimphu
    26th July, 2013


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