India and Bhutan have shared a unique partnership, grounded by the Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship with India, signed in 1949 and revised in 2007. The original version of the treaty established that Bhutan would defer to India’s guidance on “external relations” and India, in return, would provide Bhutan with military support against China as it sought to claim Bhutan. In 2007, the treaty was revised to reflect Bhutan’s self-sufficiency in the realm of foreign affairs and affirmed the continued partnership between India and Bhutan. This relationship is reinforced by Modi’s “Neighborhood First Policy,” which prioritizes bilateral ties with India’s closest neighbors. In the not so distant past, the terms of the treaty have certainly come to fruition. In 2003, the Royal Bhutan Army conducted a military operation to seize militant Indian rebels that had been operating in Bhutan, using it as a base. Bhutan rejected a deal with the militant groups to cease the operation in exchange for their relocation and instead cooperated with Indian troops situated at the border to capture and hand over the rebels. In 2017, Indian and Chinese military troops engaged in a standoff at the border between India, China and Bhutan, instigated by China’s move to expand its road construction into “disputed territory.” India stepped in to assist the Bhutanese military in pushing China away, citing the Friendship Treaty.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded his two-day visit to Bhutan on August 18. The purpose of the visit was to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the two nations with a special focus on space technology, education, and trade cooperation. Modi’s recent visit to Bhutan is the first since his visit in 2014, which marked his first foreign trip as PM of India. Prime Minister of Bhutan Lotay Tshering and Modi signed 10 Memoranda of Understanding, many of which focused on educational collaboration between universities in India and Bhutan. Seeking to stimulate energy trade, Indian trading company PTC India Ltd, signed a power purchase agreement with the state-run, Bhutanese Druk Green Power Corp Ltd to purchase surplus power from Bhutan’s Mangdechhu Hydro Electric Project, which was “inaugurated” during Modi’s visit. Additionally, to promote Bhutan’s space technology sector, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) helped to produce the Ground Earth Station for the South Asian Satellite, also inaugurated during Modi’s visit.
PM Modi also implemented the Rupay card system in Bhutan. According to Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, the inauguration of the Rupay system in Bhutan will be directed towards “Indian travelers in Bhutan” at first, with the hope of working towards “empowering” banks in Bhutan to issue RuPay cards to Bhutanese citizens and strengthen commercial ties. India affirmed its role in supporting Bhutan’s developmental progress with a commitment to give Bhutan Rs five thousand crore, which converts to roughly seven-hundred million US dollars worth of aid.
Modi’s two-day itinerary also contained a significant cultural component. Upon his arrival in Bhutan, he was greeted by a red-carpet followed by a welcome ceremony at the Tashichhodzong Palace, where he was presented with a Chipdrel procession and a guard of honor. PM Modi met with the resident monks at Simtoka Dzong, a Bhutanese landmark and religious centre, and planted a religiously symbolic Cypress tree sapling. The two Prime Ministers exchanged sentimental words regarding the relationship between India and Bhutan. In a speech he gave at the Royal University of Bhutan, Modi described Bhutan as embodying the concept of “Gross National Happiness”. Prime Minister Lotay Tshering described the durability of the bilateral relationship saying, “India and Bhutan may vary in size but our beliefs, values and motivation are common. Today, I am overwhelmed with the sense pride that the two countries are living the definition of true friendship.”