In a historic milestone for Bhutan-India relations, His Majesty The King’s much-anticipated visit to Assam has opened a new chapter in the history of the exemplary bond between these two nations. The Royal visit holds great significance, particularly for Bhutanese and Indians residing along the long and porous border shared by the two countries.
The people of Assam, led by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, eagerly awaited the Royal visit, which marked the first time a reigning monarch had graced Assam with their presence. This visit is not just a symbolic gesture but is seen as a significant step towards fostering improved relations, especially among the people living along the border.
The hope and aspirations tied to this visit are rooted in past incidents, while also acknowledging missed opportunities that spanned decades. The border shared by Assam and Bhutan extends over 267 kilometers and is dotted with settlements on both sides, offering abundant opportunities that, for various reasons, remained unexplored. Issues such as restrictions on carrying essential goods like rice, salt, mustard oil, and kerosene across the border in the 1970s and the persistent threat of militancy have hampered the potential development of this region. Unfortunately, these problems have had little to do with the people of Assam, with whom Bhutan shares close social and economic ties.
Both Assamese and Bhutanese communities living along the border have suffered equally from the presence of militants, instability, and insecurity. The lives of thousands of individuals on both sides have been affected, while many missed out on opportunities in agriculture, trade, and economic growth. Before these challenges emerged, Assamese and Bhutanese lived peacefully across the international border.
His Majesty The King’s visit to Assam has generated immense excitement in the neighboring state, leading many to believe that it heralds a revival of the deep-rooted relationship that the people once enjoyed. While it may have involved trade in tea, salt, or rice in the past, the focus now is on enhancing connectivity, improving trade, strengthening security, and, above all, allowing people and businesses to explore new opportunities.
The potential is vast. Plans are in place to redevelop the Gelephu domestic airport into an international airport. Moreover, efforts are underway to transform Sarpang into a special economic zone, a unique endeavor for Bhutan. These initiatives present opportunities for people on both sides of the border. If not marred by local politics, militancy, or vested interests, our friends in Assam can stand to gain considerably, given the ample space and population available.
These are indeed good days for both Bhutan and its neighboring state. In a gesture of goodwill ahead of the Royal visit, the Assam Cabinet approved the reservation of seats for Bhutanese nationals in medical colleges in Assam. This move is seen as a sign of improved relations and was hailed by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who expects the visit to further strengthen the ties between Bhutan and Assam, thereby fostering a brighter and more harmonious future for the entire region.
This historic visit marks the beginning of a new era, filled with possibilities and opportunities that can be harnessed like never before. Bhutan and Assam should be known for their potential, not by strikes, robberies, and kidnappings that have marred the headlines in the past. The future holds great promise, and the people of both regions can look forward to a prosperous and harmonious coexistence.