The first day of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival on August 23 brought ambassadors of Bhutan and India – General V Namgyel and Jaideep Sarkar to talk about Bhutan-India relation.

Bhutan and India established formal diplomatic relationship in 1968.

Indian ambassador to Bhutan Jaideep Sarkar said that His Majesty the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck visited India in 1954 as a chief guest at the Republic Day parade and spent a month in the country. “When I read about that visit, in many ways I feel that the template for what was to follow was set by that visit. Firstly, the pace of the relationship would be guided by Bhutan. India would respond in full measure.”

He said that in many ways, the events of 1968 was a watershed because it was a culmination of almost two decades of building up of trust and understanding that led to the establishment of the first resident mission in Bhutan.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Bhutan in 1958 marked the foundation for development and security cooperation between the two countries.

Ambassador V Namgyel said that Nehru’s speech during the visit assured India’s respect for Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech at the Ugyen Pelri Palace in Paro read: “Some may think, that since India is a great and powerful country and Bhutan is a small one, the former might wish to exercise pressure on Bhutan. It is therefore essential that I make clear to you that our only wish is that you should remain independent country, choosing your own ways of life, and taking the path of progress according to your will. At the same time, we two should live with mutual goodwill, we are members of the same Himalayan family, and should live as friendly neighbours helping each other. Freedom for both Bhutan and India should be safeguarded so that none from outside can do harm to it.”

Ambassador V Namgyel said that this foreign policy statement gave a sense of trust to the Bhutanese, the foreign policy of India that is still being maintained strictly today. “When people ask me if I can summarise Bhutan-India relation, I always respond by saying that genuine goodwill and friendship based on mutual trust and understanding is the hallmark of India and Bhutan relation.”

During the visit, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also accompanied her father Jawaharlal Nehru.

The close tie between the leaders had proved beneficial for Bhutan in long terms, he said. “Another aspect of the friendship that had great benefit for Bhutan is that when Bhutan wanted to join the UN, PM Indira Gandhi extended full support.”

Ambassador V Namgyel said that before India gained its independence, Bhutan’s foreign policy was aimed at preserving its sovereignty and security. That was the time when the rest of the sub-continent was under the British rule.

He added that the leaders of Bhutan had formulated a policy of maintaining good relations with the British while ensuring that they did not have any presence in Bhutan.

Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar said that the assistance provided by India supplemented Bhutan’s resources. “We don’t get involved in what project you should or shouldn’t implement. You already have a very successful economic model that is working.”

The discussion underlined the country’s potential and benefits of further developing Bhutan’s hydropower sector. 

Phurpa Lhamo

Additional reporting by

Leingdron Tshomo