In what is yet another milestone in Bhutan-India relations, the much-awaited visit of His Majesty The King to Assam opens a new chapter in the history of the exemplary relations between the two countries, particularly for Bhutanese and Indians living along the long and porous border.

If the people of Assam, like the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, eagerly waited for the Royal visit, the first visit to Assam by a reigning monarch, many say is significant in many ways, including foraging a new path of improved relations, especially between people living along the border.

The hope and aspirations come from past incidents while recognising the missed opportunities for decades. Assam and Bhutan share a long border. The 267km border with settlements on both sides and opportunities aplenty could not be reaped for many reasons. The feeling of insecurity, distrust and to a large extent, non-recognition of opportunities affected people on both sides of the border.

From issues like the permission to carry head-loads of rice, salt, mustard oil and kerosene by Bhutanese across the border in the 1970s to the militant threats for decades, people on both sides were robbed of their potential. Unfortunately, the problems have nothing to do with the people in Assam with whom we are closely interlinked socially and economically.

Assamese and Bhutanese along the border suffered equally and seriously from the presence of the militants, instability and insecurity. If the lives of thousands of Bhutanese and Assamese along the border were affected, many more were deprived of opportunities in agriculture, trade and economic stagnation. Assamese and Bhutanese before that have long lived peacefully together across the international border.

His Majesty The King’s visit to Assam and the excitement it created in the neighbouring state, many believe, is a harbinger of a new era of an old relationship the people enjoyed. It may be trade in tea, salt or rice in the past, it could be connectivity, improved trade, security and above all letting the people and businesses explore newer opportunities here on.

The opportunities are there. There is a plan to re-develop the Gelephu domestic airport into an international airport. More than that, works are on to develop Sarpang into a special economic zone, unique to Bhutan. This provides opportunities to people on both sides of the border. If not disrupted by local politics, militancy or interest groups, our friends in Assam would benefit equally if not more given the vast space and population available.

Good days are here for both Bhutan and its neighbouring state. Even as His Majesty The King was visiting Assam, the Assam Cabinet announced that as a goodwill gesture ahead of the Royal visit approved the reservation of seats for Bhutanese nationals in medical colleges in Assam. It is, many believe, the harbinger of improved relations. In the words of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the visit is expected to further strengthen the ties between Bhutan and Assam and foster a brighter and more harmonious future for the entire region.

A beginning is made with possibilities and opportunities to be reaped like never before. Bhutan and Assam should be known for their potential, not by bandhs (strike), robberies and kidnappings that made headlines so far.