New Delhi sees Bhutan as little more than potential protectorate

By Liu Zongyi

During Bhutan’s recent second parliamentary elections, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) unexpectedly defeated the ruling Peace and Prosperity Party (PPP) and won a majority of seats.

However, in the first round of elections, the PPP was in a relatively leading position and received more votes.

At the end of June, shortly before the second rounds, India announced the withdrawal of subsidies on liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene for Bhutan, which resulted in fuel prices doubling, public rage and worries about the country’s financial security.

These became main topics during the second round of elections, when the PDP took the chance to accuse the PPP of damaging the relationship with India and hurting people’s livelihoods. This helped the former win the election.

Critics stated that the timing of India’s subsidy withdrawal suggested it wanted to influence Bhutan’s election results. Why did India, which is proud of being the largest democratic country in the world, venture to interfere in Bhutan’s elections?

As a country located between China and India, Bhutan serves as a buffer and is of critical strategic importance to the Siliguri Corridor, a narrow stretch of land that connects India’s northeastern states to the rest of India.

The corridor is considered a vulnerable bottleneck for India’s national security. Delhi worries that China will send troops to the corridor if a Sino-Indian military clash breaks out.

Guaranteeing the security of the Siliguri Corridor has been a long-seeking strategic aim since Indian independence.

To achieve this goal, India made Sikkim an Indian protectorate, and then annexed it in the 1970s. Meanwhile, India stationed troops in strategic spots in Bhutan and also forced it to sign the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty in 1949, requiring Bhutan to follow India’s guidance on foreign policy.

Although the provision was canceled in 2007 when the two signed a new treaty of friendship, the new treaty demands Bhutan’s foreign policy not damage India’s interests.

India also controls the lifelines of Bhutan’s economy. As its largest trade partner, assistance provider and creditor, India controls the whole oil consumption of Bhutan and nearly 90 percent of the country’s hydropower development.

In the 21st century when concepts like “protectorates” and “client states” are outdated, the India-Bhutan relationship seems to be rather unique.

Bhutan’s leadership was worried about this abnormal relationship, and was afraid that Bhutan would be annexed by India some day. In 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck announced he would drop the ruling element of the monarchy when the country realized democratic elections in 2008, hoping to gain greater legitimacy.

Bhutan has established diplomatic relationships with many countries after 2007, and made significant progress in border negotiations with China through active diplomacy.

During the meeting between former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and former Bhutan prime minister Jigme Yoser Thinley in June 2012, Wen said that China is ready to forge a formal diplomatic relationship with Bhutan on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and complete border demarcation.

In August 2012, former deputy minister of foreign affairs Fu Ying visited Thimphu to discuss the establishment of diplomatic relations with Bhutan, which aroused great concerns in Delhi.

Former Indian ambassador to Bhutan Pavan K. Varma was forced to resign due to his failure to prevent Bhutan developing relations with China.

New ambassador V.P. Haran, who used to be the acting ambassador to Nepal and was keen on practicing a “carrot-and-stick” policy, has played a big role in the PDP’s latest victory in Bhutan. The withdrawal of subsidies before Bhutan’s elections reflected that India never gives up its power politics where it doesn’t need to.

India won’t allow Bhutan to freely engage in diplomacy with China and solve the border issue. Besides, India will continue its stance on the Sino-Indian border dispute and strengthen its strategic posture.

Due to the Indian influence on Bhutan’s elections, the wish of depending on democracy to maintain the sovereignty of Bhutan’s royal family and its political elites has become a failure. India’s interference in Bhutan’s election is a tragedy for Thimphu. Bhutan is still firmly under Indian control.

From Global Times
The author is a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a research fellow at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

2 thoughts on “New Delhi sees Bhutan as little more than potential protectorate

  • August 4, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Written in true spirit of Chinese perspective. But fails to address ground realities of Bhutan’s traditional and the daily necessary links with India. Even if Bhutan opted to side with China – the link is marred by formidable physical presence of the Himalayas. The much touted Buddhist cultural link too rests with areas south of the watershed. Besides, Bhutan is too tiny to be of economic interest but just an optional route to Bay of Bengal – so all the subtle wordings aside the real importance is on the strategic option which India will continue to have with advantage and edge. China geopolitics, however, demands a continued effort to woo and win over Thimphu..and India to continue to roost and not let it out of sight.. even if that requires making a large portion of the Bhutanese Citizens as exiles.

  • August 12, 2013 at 9:24 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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