Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Bhutan’s Elections & Their Significance To India’s Foreign Policyop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India’s time-tested strong relationship with Bhutan and how to ensure that it remains the same


Elections in Bhutan

  1. Bhutanese democracy and electoral process are unique in several ways
  2. The Constitution declares Bhutan to be a sovereign Kingdom, where the form of government is that of a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy
  3. The Parliament – Chi Tshog has two Houses: National Council (Gyelyong Tshogde) and National Assembly (Tshogdu), both with a five-year term
  4. The National Council has 25 members of which 20 are elected while five are nominated by the King; candidates contest the Council elections as independents and not as party nominees
  5. However, elections to the National Assembly which has 47 members are held on party lines
  6. National Assembly elections are held first in a primary round where registered political parties contest on party symbols
  7. The two parties that get the highest number of votes in the primary nominate candidates for the 47 seats in the General Elections which are held after nearly one month
  8. Bhutan argues that the process helps multiparty contests in the primary while ensuring that the “tyranny of two-party system” is avoided

Lessons which India can adopt from Bhutanese Election System

  1. The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has, over the last decade, put in place clear-cut guidelines, rules and regulations for conducting elections, as per Constitutional directives and the Election Act, 2008
  2. The ECB provides for public campaign finance through elaborate guidelines for allocation of finances, monitoring, auditing, and strict penalties for misuse
  3. The Constitution, under Article 3, specifically enjoins upon religious institutions and personalities to remain away from and above politics
  4. The Election Act, 2008 bars such personalities from joining a political party or participating in the electoral process
  5. They also cannot take part in the election campaign or show any electoral preference, thereby ensuring a secular political system
  6. The ECB provides for common forums for parties to address the electorate at a specified venue for electioneering
  7. Later, two public debates are organized in which the presidents of the parties or their nominees take part
  8. The first public debate is based more on party ideology and the second on election manifestos
  9. The ECB has strict guidelines, with all media outlets having to submit an undertaking on responsible reporting and to ensure a level playing field
  10. Social media rules and regulations were issued this year, emphasising accountability and responsibility
  11. The election advertising regulations, media coverage of elections rules and regulations and code of conduct for media persons strive to put a check on misuse of mass media during election times

Importance of election results for India

  1. For India, Bhutanese elections have a special significance, considering the very close relations that New Delhi shares with Thimphu, especially in the context of increased Chinese involvement and the Doklam stand-off
  2. Keeping the 79-day Doklam standoff between the Indian and Chinese armies in view, the leanings of the Bhutanese PM are crucial
  3. India will be eagerly looking at the outcome of the third parliamentary elections in Bhutan, a country that has been a positive constant in its foreign policy framework
  4. Some of the Bhutanese concerns include access and connectivity, their currency Ngultrum being pegged to the Rupee, the share of trade to total trade, the Rupee Reserve, etc., besides the China factor
  5. Prime Minister Tobgay had developed a very good rapport with Indian leaders, especially with a change of government in New Delhi
  6. People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led by Tobgay in its manifesto describes India as “our closest neighbour and friend”, and says it will ensure further engagement with New Delhi
  7. It talks of striving to foster good relations with neighbouring West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam and Bihar
  8. It will also explore possibilities of creating infrastructural linkages with Indian railway networks to boost export
  9. Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), of Dr Pema Gyamtsho in its manifesto, says it remains committed to maintaining and furthering excellent bilateral relations by deepening economic ties and carrying forward the mutually beneficial cooperation
  10. Some doubts, though, have been expressed if DPT’s vision of “sovereignty, security and self-sufficiency” is intended as a thinly veiled reference to Indian interests

Why India’s chances are better in Bhutan?

  1. The Chinese will offer greater funding than Indians can afford but Bhutan may not be looking for huge investments
  2. It has propagated the concept of Gross National Happiness Index over that of GDP, to the whole world
  3. Recently, they declined to ratify the Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement
  4. The reasons advanced by Bhutan are the reservations of a section of its population on environmental grounds
  5. As such, huge Chinese investments shouldn’t be Bhutan’s priority
  6. The country and its people are not focused on rapid industrialisation

Bhutan-China relations not that strong

  1. China has a disputed border with Bhutan that includes Doklam and a few more areas
  2. The Chinese have reportedly offered Bhutan other areas in exchange of approximately 100sqkm at Doklam
  3. As per the old Indo-Bhutanese Agreement of 1949 Bhutan was to be guided by India in regard to its external relations
  4. The treaty signed in 2007 lays down that the two governments will cooperate with each other on issues relating to National Interests
  5. PM Tshering Tobgay and his party were with India during the Doklam standoff
  6. The Bhutanese government had given a statement clearly stating that the Chinese were on Bhutanese territory
  7. A change in guard at Thimphu does not necessarily mean a pro-China tilt, however, it could lead to Bhutan trying to pursue a more equated relationship with both India and China

Way forward for India

  1. Bhutan has supported the Indian stance on most issues except for a few affirmations of independent strategic policy making on a few occasions
  2. Bhutanese politics, despite the transition to democracy, respect the monarchy heavily. For India, this is a major pivot to ensure continuity in India-Bhutan relations and mutually arrived at geopolitical stances
  3. With our longstanding relationship with Bhutan, the Indian focus needs to be on contributing in areas that affect the populace more and in areas that are a priority for the man on the street
  4. Such issues include education, healthcare, agriculture, development of the tourism industry
  5. India already purchases hydropower from Bhutan and is committed to constructing additional hydropower projects in Bhutan
  6. In fact, the sale of power to India is Bhutan’s biggest foreign exchange earner
  7. India-Bhutan relationship has a huge ancient cultural linkage which needs to be leveraged. The revered Guru Padmasambhava associated with Vajrayana Buddhism that has a huge following in Bhutan was from India
  8. The Indian approach to Bhutan has necessarily to be tailored while being sensitive to the growing Bhutanese aspirations of being considered as an equal

Original Article: Bhutan’s Elections & Their Significance To India’s Foreign Policy

With inputs from the article: Why Bhutan’s 2018 general election results could concern India

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