As it clocked six on April 9 evening, people began to rush in Phuentsholing. Both the entry and exit border gates were closed.

People from across the border who work in Phuentsholing and Bhutanese who live across the border left the town. Within an hour, the country’s commercial hub was less noisy and emptier.

The gates were closed owing to the upcoming General Lok Sabha elections in the Indian state of West Bengal. Today, the people of Alipurduar would go for the polls and the border gate would open at 6pm.

Royal Bhutan Police has notified that the border gate would remain closed on two other occasions. For Jalpaiguri elections, the gates would close on the evening of April 16 and open on April 18 evening. For the elections in the State Government of Assam, the gates would be closed on April 21 evening and opened on April 23 evening.

A Phuentsholing dungkhag official said the gates are closed as per the request from the Indian side as it is election time.

“It is just like we close during our elections time,” he said, adding that it was done in mutual respect and cooperation. “They have written to us.”

During the election days, Bhutanese living across the border would be allowed to come to Phuentsholing, the official said. However, it would be “accorded as per case basis.” The exit (return across the border) would not be allowed.

Residents say the impact of fronting businesses in the border town is visible in such times. If a shop remains closed today, it would mean an individual from across the border runs it with Bhutanese license.

Some businessmen also said that many businesses in Phuentsholing would be affected with the gates closed. Hotel industries, labour agents, and other import-export businesses would be hit.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing