Bhutan shares a profound and enduring relationship with India, one that spans history, culture, and socioeconomic bonds. Rooted in centuries of shared civilization, this alliance is fortified by a profound spiritual kinship, considering India as gyagar (the sacred land) where Buddhism originated. This relationship, underpinned by pillars of trust, goodwill and mutual understanding, has grown stronger since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1968.
One of the foundational pillars of the relationship between the two countries is Buddhism. The Buddhist linkages between the two have remained ever stronger and with the coming together of Buddhist leaders from both countries in conferences like the recently held International Buddhist Confederation (IBC), the ties tend to further consolidate. Bhutan was represented by a delegation from the Central Monastic Body, led by Lopen Sangay. Sangay commended IBC for their strenuous efforts in arranging the confederation as well as for facilitating the delegation’s visits to sacred places in Ladakh and appreciated the deep spiritual connection between the two nations.
The relationship between India and Bhutan, however, transcends the spiritual and religious elements and encompasses all the other aspects of people’s lives. The basis of this relationship is formed on the pillars of the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 1949 which emphasises “perpetual peace and friendship, free trade and commerce, and equal justice to each other’s citizens.” Bhutan’s socio-economic development and territorial integrity have always been a major priority for India. The two countries have a close strategic partnership, with India providing assistance to Bhutan in various sectors, including economic development, infrastructure, education, health and security. India is not only Bhutan’s biggest development partner but also the most important trading partner both as a source and market for its trade in goods and services. India provides not only the transit route to a landlocked Bhutan but is also the biggest market for a number of Bhutan’s exports including hydroelectricity, semi-finished products, ferrosilicon, and dolomite.
In hydropower sector, the two countries have committed to jointly develop 10,000 MW of hydroelectricity capacity in Bhutan. The completion of the 720 MW Mangdechhu hydropower project in Bhutan has been deemed an achievement of the partnership between the two countries. This has propelled discussions of the Sankosh Hydropower Project building between the two countries. As per Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan (2018-2023), India is providing grant assistance to the tune of INR 4,500 crores, along with a transitional Trade Support Facility of INR 400 crores over a five-year period to reinforce the economic linkages.
In the realm of scientific and technological cooperation, the recent launch of a joint India-Bhutan SAT satellite by ISRO marks a new era of India–Bhutan relations. This satellite is expected to enable Bhutan by providing real-time data and high-resolution images for land mapping and facilitating management of its natural resources, forests and agriculture. This development is in line with the growing India-Bhutan relations in new avenues such as advanced technology, space and digital systems.
A series of pioneering initiatives has been set in motion, generating a harmonious blend of digital and space cooperation between India and Bhutan. Among the illustrious endeavours is the implementation of RuPay, the integration of Bhutan’s DrukREN into India’s national Knowledge Network, and the establishment of a Ground Earth Station by ISRO, designed to harness the expansive services offered by the South Asia Satellite.
In this cooperative effort, India plays a leading role in nurturing Bhutan’s digital and space capabilities. The primary goal is to unlock the potential of Bhutan’s youth by offering skill development and employment opportunities. This partnership not only allows India to expand its technological reach but also supports Bhutan’s progress through investments and expertise. These initiatives mark a significant step toward a brighter future for Bhutan, with both nations working hand in hand.
Bhutan expressed gratitude and appreciation for India at the UN General Assembly for its “heart-warming goodwill” and “valuable support” in supply of COVID-19 vaccines under New Delhi’s ‘Vaccine Maitri initiative’ that enabled the Himalayan country making the nationwide rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination programme when the entire globe had been reeling under the unprecedented health crisis. The two countries shall be proud of their relationship which is based on trust, shared cultural values, mutual respect and partnership in sustainable development.
India’s deployment of Military Training Team (IMTRAT) in Bhutan to train the Bhutanese security forces in 1961 and since then has been responsible for Bhutanese security. A number of engagements pertaining to security and border management issues, threat perceptions, coordination of Indo-Bhutan border entry-exit points, and sharing of real-time information, among other aspects are being undertaken by the two countries on a regular basis. The Doklam standoff between Indian and Chinese forces in 2017 has made the security matter even more important and has led to even better coordination and partnership between Indian and Bhutanese forces to secure the strategic areas.
The ties between India and Bhutan have over the time matured into comprehensive partnerships and cooperation on wider range of issues spanning energy security, business and trade, security and intelligence sharing, digitisation, space technology and conservation biology sectors, amongst others. India always stood by Bhutan in adverse situations and challenging times in past and Bhutan acknowledged. As a friendly and helpful neighbour, India has been responsive to Bhutan’s needs exemplified by the support extended to Bhutan supplying essential goods and services and whatever requisites time to time. The relationship is an embodiment of friendship, one that transcends mere diplomacy, underscoring the exceptional strength of their rapport. It epitomizes the profound sense of camaraderie shared by these two nations in their quest for mutual progress and collective prosperity.
Bhutan’s relationship with India, deeply rooted in history, spirituality, and shared values, has grown into a multifaceted partnership. Their collaboration extends across various critical domains, from energy security to technology, space, and conservation biology. India’s unwavering support during challenging times exemplifies the depth of this bond. In navigating these intricacies, India and Bhutan stand as bastions of stability, fostering regional equilibrium, and ensuring peace in a rapidly evolving world. Bhutan’s enduring friendship with India remains a testament to shared values and mutual support, even during adversity, ensuring a promising shared future.