Thimphu [Bhutan]: Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. The practice of archery leading to occasional accidents is not unheard of in the Himalayan kingdom.
In 2019, a man from Punakha in Bhutan was airlifted to Kolkata with an arrow stuck to his aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the circulatory system. The man was operated upon at Fortis Hospital in Kolkata. He survived, Pardafas reported.
The website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan states that the Bhutan Government provides free healthcare to all its citizens. The Bhutan Government also refers patients requiring super-speciality treatment outside Bhutan, and most patients are referred to Kolkata, says the website.
This is an instance of the closeness of the relationship between India and Bhutan. Between April 11 and 13, this year, Kathok Situ Rinpoche, a senior reincarnate lama from Wangdue Phodrang in Bhutan, of royal descent from his mother’s side, travelled to monasteries in Dzongu and Pakyong in Sikkim and led prayers in newly built Chortens. These are instances of the close spiritual links between Sikkim, Darjeeling and Bhutan.
Clearly, the Global Times commentator wrote on March 30, 2023, that “Bhutan has closer ties with China than with India in terms of not only culture and religion, but also history” had not done the homework.
The Global Times commentator was also unaware of the fact that historically Bhutan had a long-established relationship with its southern neighbour the former kingdom of Cooch Behar. Bhutan used to be ruled by the people of Cooch Behar before Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal arrived from Tibet in 1630 to unify Bhutan.
In 1773, the British intervened at the request of the royal family of Cooch Behar when the rulers of Bhutan installed a king of their own choice in Cooch Behar. Also, for over 150 years from the beginning of the 18th century, the hills of Kalimpong, now in India, were ruled by Bhutan.
He also overlooked the fact that eastern Bhutan is dominated by the Sharchop people who had migrated from the east. They are ethnically close to the Bodo community of Assam in India and outnumber by a ratio of 3:2 the ethnic group Ngalop who had arrived in Bhutan from Tibet.
The Communist Party of China was also overjoyed to read an interview of Prime Minister of Bhutan Lotay Tsering in the Belgian newspaper La Libre that Bhutan would soon demarcate its boundary with China in the Doklam plateau and that the viewpoint of Beijing in Doklam would be accommodated by Thimphu.
On the face of it, the interview of the Prime Minister of Bhutan carried a disconcerting message for New Delhi as the Chinese occupation of the Doklam plateau is strategically unacceptable to India.
By mentioning in the interview that India had an equal stake in the boundary dispute between Bhutan and China in the Doklam plateau, the Prime Minister of Bhutan had recognized for the first time that India had a role in the boundary talks between Bhutan and China and that Bhutan would respect the security concerns of India in Doklam and keep India in the loop.
After the appearance of the interview of the Prime Minister of Bhutan in the Belgian newspaper, The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the CPC, commented on an optimistic note on March 30, 2023, that China and Bhutan would settle their boundary dispute in a few rounds of talks.
Obviously, the hawks in the CPC were eyeing a piece of high ground in the Doklam plateau called Zomphelri Ridge from where they could oversee the vulnerable Siliguri corridor of India.
The Global Times also declared that after the settlement of the boundary between Bhutan and China the controversial Belt and Road Initiative of China, which Beijing has used to gain control of strategic assets in the recipient countries, would be extended to Bhutan.
What Beijing did not bargain for was that within days of the outbreak of the controversy over the interview of the Prime Minister of Bhutan, none other than the King of Bhutan went to New Delhi on a three-day visit between April 3 and 5; accompanied by the Foreign Minister of Bhutan Tandi Dorji.
During the visit, he had long meetings with both Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister of India S Jaishankar; as well as a formal meeting with President of India Droupadi Murmu.
The significance of the low-key visit can be well understood from the fact that in Bhutan the King is not just a ceremonial head of state. He is the constitutional head, wields real power and is the final authority on decision-making in the Himalayan kingdom.
The most significant statement made in the joint declaration issued by Bhutan and India after the visit of the King was that: “His Majesty the King of Bhutan and the Prime Minister of India held discussions on the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation and of regional and global issues of mutual interest;” thus indicating in clear terms that the meeting of the King of Bhutan with the Prime Minister of India was neither a courtesy call nor a diplomatic formality, but a forum where the close understanding between New Delhi and Thimphu in the border dispute between Bhutan and China was reaffirmed.
India agreed to step up support to Thimphu for the 13th Five Year Plan of Bhutan to take forward the development partnership between the two countries; thus sending a clear signal to Beijing that its pet BRI which it uses effectively to snare small countries in a debt trap and the arm-twist them has no place in the Himalayan kingdom
The King of Bhutan and his entourage noted with satisfaction the timely flow of funds from the Indian government to ensure “smooth and uninterrupted progress of projects under the 12th Five Year Plan, with about 90 per cent of India’s committed Plan assistance to Bhutan already released.”
Bhutan also appreciated the Indian gesture of extending the Standby Credit Facility at reduced interest rate and extended settlement period, and for providing an additional currency swap support of USD 200 million. India also agreed to consider favourably the request of Bhutan to extend another Standby Credit Facility for a period of five years.
It was also decided to deepen the bilateral cooperation between India and Bhutan in the area of hydropower. Under this, Bhutan receives a steady stream of revenue from the sale of power from hydro plants which have been jointly developed with assistance from India; with India benefitting from the assured supply of energy.
The role of the hydropower plants in helping Bhutan tide over the economic crisis it faced during the Covid-19 pandemic was appreciated by the King and his entourage.