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SEPTEMBER 2014 ISSUE

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Force Magazine
Feature Report - Force Magazine
Importance of Bhutan
The Himalayan neighbour can play a crucial role in India’s regional ambitions
 
By Abhismita Sen

Importance of Bhutan The month of May saw a landslide victory of not only the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Lok Sabha polls but also the triumph of the spirit called ‘NaMo’ (as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known by the masses).

The change, not just in administration but ideology, is critical at a juncture when India has become an important power to reckon with. It’s now increasingly being believed that her foreign relations would determine the course of diplomacy in the world.

Although, India is neither a permanent member of United Nations Security Council nor a very rich or developed nation as per popular tabulations, she has successfully made it to the good books of the most dominant power in the world - the United States (US). This has been possible because of its dual containment strategy towards both the rise of China and increasing terrorism. China’s rise is an apple of discord for both India and the US, but ironically both the nations have to have a steady economic and trade relations with China, as Chinese goods have successfully captured the markets of both the nations.

India’s relationship with China is somewhat symbiotic. Both the prodigal neighbours are wary of each other’s growth and development yet border, hydro, communication, anthropologic and trade related ties keep them aligned at several diplomatic levels.

India realises that its favourable strategic location and geography, rapid economic growth, educated and English savvy middle class, technological advancement and good relations with international powers places her in the unique position to not just contain but compete with China. She now dreams of assuming leadership in Asia rather seriously, while being valiant to fight neck to neck with both China and Japan.

The previous regimes of the Indian National Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) I and II (2004-2014), have been somewhat active in these goals. The question is whether Narendra Modi’s government would be able to live up to this ‘Indian Dream’.

As per the manifesto of the BJP for the Lok Sabha elections 2014, the vision of India is to “fundamentally reboot and reorient the foreign policy goal, content and process, in a manner that locates India’s global strategic engagement in a new paradigm and on a wider canvass, that is not just limited to political diplomacy, but also includes our economic, scientific, cultural, political and security interests, both regional and global, on the principles of equality and mutuality, so that it leads to an economically stronger India, and its voice is heard in the international fora”.

For his first official diplomatic trip, the Prime Minister chose Bhutan, which till now only figured in India’s priority zone as an aid receiver for regional diplomacy. Bhutan had never been a neighbour important enough to deserve a first visit by a new prime minister. So, was this decision a mere generous gesture towards the Prime Minister’s agenda of ‘political stability, progress and peace’ in South Asia or was it one of his carefully crafted and conscious diplomatic decisions?

This article explores the various aspects of the seemingly trivial yet latently significant Indo-Bhutan relationship in present times from the point of view of balance of power in South Asia.

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