INDIA’S DATE WITH THE HIMALAYAN PARADISES

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Again, I want to share some information related to my Arts Subject, Political Science about the ups and downs of the 2 mighty Himalayan kingdoms- Nepal and Bhutan.

Both Nepal and Bhutan have been monarchies. Both are landlocked nations, heavily dependent on India. Both have made a transition to democracy, a forced and violent one in the case of the former, while peaceful and voluntary in the case of the latter. The Hindu-dominated Nepal has traditionally been a troubling neighbour for India that has used the China card for decades even though the Nepalese culture is analogous to India’s and absolutely different from China’s. On the other hand, the Buddhist-majority Bhutan has been a model neighbour for India.

Bhutan’s model neighbourliness was demonstrated in 2003 when it launched Operation All Clear against anti-Indian terrorist and insurgent groups and drove them out from its soil.

On the other end of the spectrum there is Nepal, a poor advertisement for good neighbourliness. Nepal has become a favourite staging post for enemies of India who use Nepalese territory for flooding India with counterfeit Indian currency notes, illegal arms, drugs and even terrorists. Thanks to the large presence of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence officials in Kathmandu, Nepal has emerged as an important alternate route for infiltrating well-trained and well-equipped terrorists into India.

Much of anti-India activities being staged from the Nepalese soil are known to New Delhi and yet the Indian government has been unable to stem the rot. The reason for Nepal becoming a bug bear for India, rather than being a well-meaning neighbour, is that India’s influence in that country has consistently been on the decline.

Not many years ago, India used to be the power in Kathmandu. The US, UK, European Union, the United Nations were nowhere on the Nepalese political radar screen. The influence of China and Pakistan was minimal. But this is no longer so. The influence of China has rapidly increased in Nepal and similar is the case with the US, the EU and the UN, all at the cost of India. Though in terms of influence in Nepal, China is still number two, behind India.

The way China is going at a breakneck speed in helping Nepal in all areas, particularly road and infrastructure projects, China is set to be the most important foreign influence in Nepal in not too distant future. India has been involved with both Bhutan and Nepal in a major way for years and has been behind much of development in the two countries in past half a century.

India is taking railways into both Bhutan and Nepal. But the rapidly increasing Chinese infrastructure around these countries has spurred India to be pro-active in its engagement with these two countries.  India has pumped in ten thousand crore rupees worth developmental aid and assistance in Bhutan in past half a century, including paying for electricity which Bhutan generated with Indian help and sold to India.

Similarly, India has helped Nepal with developmental aid and assistance worth thousands of crores of rupees till date. The relations of both Nepal and Bhutan with India are tied to a decades-old bedrock treaty with each of them. Here again the responses of the two to the bilateral treaty with India characterize their attitude. Both countries voiced reservations about their bilateral treaty with India.

The India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 is the cornerstone of the special relations that exist between the two neighbours. The treaty gives to the Nepalese citizens unparallel advantages in India as they can avail the facilities and opportunities at par with Indian citizens.

Significantly, the Treaty has enabled Nepal to overcome the disadvantages of being a landlocked country. But for decades, many regimes in Nepal raised the issue of revision of the treaty and India assured of its willingness to examine all bilateral arrangements with a view to further strengthening the ties.

In August 2009, the two countries agreed to review the 1950 Treaty, which gives India immense influence on Nepal’s affairs, including defence and security matters, that some sections of the Nepalese society feel amounts to encroachment of its sovereignty. India and Nepal signed a revised trade treaty in October 2009 which allows Nepal greater access to the Indian market.

India and Nepal have a treaty of transit, which confers transit rights through each other’s territory through mutually agreed routes and modalities. The treaty was last renewed for seven years in March 2006. India is Nepal’s largest trade partner, source of foreign investment and tourist arrivals. According to figures for the Nepalese fiscal year (ending July 15, 2009), bilateral trade with India accounted for 58.22% of Nepalese total external trade. India also remains Nepal’s largest source of foreign investment, accounting for 43.17% of the total foreign investments in Nepal.

India and Bhutan signed their first ever Friendship Treaty way back in 1865 when India was under British rule. The British India was the first country to recognize Bhutan when it became a monarchy and renewed the treaty in 1910. Bhutan reciprocated the gesture and was the first country to recognise Indian independence. The India-Bhutan treaty was revised in 1949 with a new clause that India would assist Bhutan in foreign relations. Diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan were established in 1968 with the appointment of a resident representative of India in Thimphu.

Before this India’s relations with Bhutan were looked after by a Political Officer from the Ministry of External Affairs in Sikkim. India continues to be the largest trade and development partner of Bhutan as over 90% of Bhutan’s trade is with India. An important feature of Indo-Bhutan trade is that the balance of trade is in Bhutan’s favor because from 2006 Bhutan’s exports to India have been more than Bhutan’s imports from India primarily due to exports of energy from Bhutan to India.

The India-Bhutan engagement is multifaceted and covers sectors like hydro power, health, education, human resource development, media, information technology, telecom, etc. India has been helping Bhutan in a big way in generation of hydroelectric power. Three major hydroelectric projects have already been commissioned with India’s assistance. These are the Chukha Project (336 MW), the Kurichhu Project (60 MW) and the Tala Project (1020 MW). The fourth and the biggest hydel power project –Punatsangchhu (1200 MW), is currently under construction.

Besides, India is helping Bhutan in developing a knowledge-based economy by way of a Rs. 205 crores ‘Total Solutions Project’ which will provide access to information technology and IT solutions to a significant proportion of Bhutan’s population over the next five years. The project envisages training and establishing ICT enabled schools, computer labs, and computer stations in rural Bhutan.

In mid-2009, Bhutan was confronted with a litmus test for its nascent democracy. The two houses of the Parliament- National Assembly and National Council got embroiled in who-is-more-powerful contest. The National Council had a bee in its bonnet and decided that it could oversee the National Assembly and could call the ministers of the Council during the Question Hour to explain their actions.

The Prime Minister intervened to say that in democracy all were equal and the matter rested at that. In another incident, on July 17, 2009 the National Assembly decided that the government did not intend to implement controversial Driglam Namzha(traditional etiquettes) program by force, but by education. The Bhutan government took note of the fact that the brutally strict implementation of the program in mid-eighties alienated large pockets of the population and resulted in the uprising of Lhotsampas in southern Bhutan. In contrast, Nepal has been hobbling in its march down the road of democracy.

In June 2010, the life of the Constituent Assembly (CA) was saved at the eleventh hour when the three major political parties, the CPN-Maoist (CPN-M), the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML (CPN-UML) managed to avoid a constitutional crisis. In the true Nepalese tradition of resolving a thorny political issue, the three parties thrashed out a consensus by signing the three-point agreement to dissolve the political stand-off. Hence, India has remained neutral in both these country’s affairs and continue to aid them. As a result, both the nations- Nepal and Bhutan have started to develop rapidly through India’s help.

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