With polls 3 days away, all big Bhutan players swear by India
THIMPHU: Bhutan may introduce a law or convention to stop its political parties from making its relationship with India an election issue in future.
After weeks of mudslinging over who “displeased or provoked” India, the kingdom’s incumbent party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), and the major opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on Tuesday hinted at the possibility of a provision to prevent India-Bhutan ties from turning into a political issue.
“After the July 13 general election, we may review the electoral process and explore means and ways to stop parties from discussing bilateral ties with India during campaigning,” DPT vice-president Sangay Thinley Dorji told TOI.
PDP, too, is keen on the proposal. “We can always have an agreement not to discuss India-Bhutan ties during electioneering. Bhutan’s relationship with India is of utmost importance for all Bhutanese,” said PDP secretary-general Sonam Jatso.
Considering Bhutan’s great dependence on Delhi for its economic survival, the debate over India seems to have put DPT, which won 45 out 47 seats in the 2008 election, on the back foot. For, DPT prime minister Jigme Thinley is said to have warmed up to Chinese overtures, giving New Delhi a severe heartburn.
DPT, however, refutes this. “It’s during our tenure the India-Bhutan relationship reached its zenith. Anyone can make out this by the number of bilateral visits by leaders of the two countries. Our prime minister visited India nine times,” said DPT’s officiating president Yeshe Zimba, who himself served as the prime minister twice under the King’s direct rule between 2000 and 2003.
To clear the air about Thinley’s meeting with Chinese premier Wen Bia in Rio last year, an event that apparently upset India, Zimba said, “It was a simple courtesy meeting. They met just because they happened to be there at the same time.”
Zimba ruled out the possibility of any diplomatic ties between Thimphu and Beijing. He said, “We will never deviate from our principled stand of not having diplomatic missions of any of the ‘Big Five’ of the UN in Thimphu. More importantly, we will never have a policy of equidistance between New Delhi and Beijing.”
Zimba added, “We have built our friendship with India as foot soldiers of our Kings over a long period of time. We will never destroy what we have created. Nor will we ever let it come in harm’s way.”
Zimba pledged that DPT will never undermine India’s security concerns while settling border disputes with China. “We are attuned to India in every respect. For us Buddhists, the centre of the universe is Bodh Gaya. We cannot forget how China overran Tibet, a Buddhist nation.”
But PDP accuses DTP of being “not transparent” in its dealings with China. “We simply have no idea about what it has done in regards to China, though border disputes are sometimes talked about,” Sonam Jatso remarked.
The PDP leader came down heavily on Thinley for running after a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council. He added, “I personally feel a country like Bhutan should not be there. It would create nothing but enemies.” In diplomatic circles, Bhutan’s opening of ties with 32 countries since 2008 is linked to Thinley’s bid to be on the world radar.
Jasto said his party would try to remove all irritants from bilateral ties with India. “Without complete trust, there cannot be a friendship between any two countries,” he added. “DTP talks about regular bilateral visits by leaders of India and Bhutan. But most Indian leaders came to attend the coronation and the royal wedding during DPT’s rule.”
Jatso said his party was more concerned about the wellbeing of the Bhutanese people after the Indian media recently reported about the “strain” in India-Bhutan ties. “The recent cut in subsidy for cooking gas and kerosene by India can hit every Bhutanese. We need to know how it happened.”
He refuted DPT’s allegations that it was his party that raked up the issue of bilateral relationship during campaigning. “We talked about it only when DPT said it alone could get aid from abroad.”
Zimba, on the other, said, “It is PDP who first said India would be difficult for Bhutan if DPT comes to power again. We feared that people might feel they are being threatened by India. It is very unfortunate that news of the cut in gas and kerosene subsidy reached here around the same time.”
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With polls 3 days away, all big Bhutan players swear by India | Bhutan News Network