‘Yam’ Between Two Boulders: Re-Assessing India–Bhutan Relationship

AuthorDebamitra Mitra
Published date01 December 2013
Date01 December 2013
Subject MatterArticles
Debamitra Mitra is Principal and Head of the Department of Management
Studies, Institute of Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Development
(ILEAD), West Bengal University of Technology (WBUT), Kolkata, India.
E-mail: debamitra.mitra@gmail.com
‘Yam’ between
Two Boulders:
Re-assessing India–
Bhutan Relationship
Debamitra Mitra
For India, her ‘beneficial bilateralism’ with Bhutan cannot be taken for
granted on the assumption of Bhutan’s perpetual dependence on India.
Taking into consideration Bhutan’s strategic location, its local level eco-
nomic viability along the borders, trade potentials, counter-terrorism
in the northeast corridor, and the new balance of power that has been
created with China trying to be the dominant economic and military
power in the Asia-Pacific, India’s prudent foreign policy needs to assess
her relationship with Bhutan more on a realistic paradigm instead of
pre-conceived idealism. Though both are powerful, the fundamental
contradictions between India and China in South Asia are too apparent
to permit any ‘strategic partnership’. A buffer state like Bhutan, by its
sheer existence might prevent conflict between two rival powers, but
their manipulation is an element of diplomatic game played between
the giant neighbors. Moreover, in balance of power model, states try to
secure own safety, to reach an equilibrium for self-preservation. Trying
to avoid the dominance of one particular state, they may ally with other
states until equilibrium is reached. Hence India’s inappropriate assess-
ment of Bhutan’s strategic importance might induce the Himalayan
country to seek for new equilibrium by shifting its alliance, jeopardi-
zing the Indian interest. Hence India’s Bhutan policy must be far more
nuanced from now on.
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
17(2) 185–203
2013 Jadavpur University
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/0973598414535059
186 Debamitra Mitra
Jadavpur Journal of International Relations, 17, 2 (2013): 185–203
Balance of power, Strategic partnership, Buffer state, Special relationship
In international relations, balance of power is a ‘just equilibrium’
between the members of the family of nations, intended to prevent any
one nation from becoming sufficiently strong to enforce its will upon
the rest. In such a scenario, as Neorealist believes, a state may choose
to engage in either balancing or bandwagoning in order to secure own
safety, consistent with political realism, and to reach equilibrium for
self-preservation. Trying to avoid the dominance of one particular state,
they may ally with other states until equilibrium is reached. As
L. Oppenheim pointed out, equilibrium between various powers which
form the family of nations is, in fact, essential to the very existence of
international law established by code of rules, custom or defined in trea-
ties. It is the capacity of the powers to hold each other in check. If this
system fails, as Oppenheim stated, ‘nothing prevents any state suffi-
ciently powerful from ignoring the law and acting solely according to its
convenience and its interests’ (Encyclopedia Britannica. 1911: 1). This
logic cannot be an exception in the context of India–Bhutan relations. In
case of India’s inappropriate assessment of Bhutan’s strategic impor-
tance, the Himalayan country might seek for new equilibrium by shift-
ing its alliance, jeopardizing the Indian interest. Perhaps this is what that
has exactly happened when the Government of India had to resort to
teach a lesson to Bhutan just at the eve of Bhutan’s national democratic
elections on 13 July 2013, by withdrawing subsidy on cooking gas and
kerosene oil being provided to Bhutan. India was taken by surprise
when former Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley appeared to be
cozying up to Beijing. He had a meeting with the Chinese premier, Wen
Jiabao on the sidelines of Rio+20 Summit on 21June 2012 and also
imported some 20 buses from China. (Parasharand Datta 2013: 1). There
is little reason for joy in New Delhi’s corridors of power because the
People’s Democratic Party trounced the ruling Druk Phuensum Tshogpa,
headed by Thinley, in Bhutan’s second parliamentary elections. For in
Bhutan, the current trend is, if one bunch of Bhutanese politicians leans

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