Diplomacy of the Sublime: Reflections on the finer realms of India-Bhutan Relationship…

Destiny put us here. Geography made us neighbours. History made us friends. Trust has made us brothers. And, necessity has guided us to forge a common vision and a shared destiny. What we make of these endowments and accomplishments will be the legacy of succeeding generations of leaders and citizens of honour and wisdom. 

Bhutan and Bharat share many precious links that make us unique in myriad forms and multiple colours. We are linked by land that runs for miles between us and by the blue dome that arches over us. We share the sun and the moon and the stars. We share the vital air that knows no boundaries. We share the silver- water that gurgles from our mountains and mingles with the Indian Ocean.

As co-inhabitants of this timeless region of God’s good Earth, we share the seasons and seek to decipher the language of the sea, make sense of the changes in the body-fibres of the land, and learn the signs in the firmament as we struggle to gauge what meanings they might have for us. 

We share our capacity to dream, to imagine and to wonder. We are linked by our capacity to love, to pray, and to care. We are together in our dreams for our children and our children’s children and their children and beyond. We are one as members of the same human family, united by our fears and our hopes, humbled by our frailties and levelled by our mortality. 

Physical scale and population size, historical experiences and institutional uniqueness, socio-cultural diversity and eco-industrial disparities and other asymmetries notwithstanding, our two countries enjoy a time-tested mutually-beneficial relationship built and nurtured over many years by our enlightened leaders who embodied rare vision and extraordinary goodwill. 

Our sages and seers have moved back and forth even as learned men and women have shared their wisdom with generations of the people of each others’ countries. Beyond mutually beneficial bilateral relationships, we share a common membership with the SAARC family of nations, the Colombo Plan, the Non-aligned Movement, and the United Nations Organisation, as indeed with a host of other regional and international bodies. 

As a close friend and near neighbour, Bhutan has a special place in its heart for India.  We are fascinated by your vision that embraces the whole of humanity as you call out Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum. We admire the depth of your insight that affirms the ultimate statement of the universal law as you proclaim Satyameva Jayate. India, the veritable Din-i-Ilahi, beckons every spiritual tradition of the world to its expansive garden to bloom and to blossom.

India is close to Bhutan physically, culturally, economically, diplomatically, spiritually, and even emotionally. Many Bhutanese are regular visitors to the sub-continent for a variety of personal and professional reasons including studies, pilgrimage, business, medical treatment, meetings, holidays, and private invitations. 

When we travel to India, we don’t just get caught up in the din and dazzle of the cities and the metropolises. We go to the fabled land of the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Gita and the Quran, to the timeless epics and legends of the magnitude and majesty of Ramayana, the Mahabharata, to the ancient seats of Nalanda and Taxila, to the sacred sites of Benares and Bodhgaya.  

We discover the edicts of Ashoka, the laws of Manu and the precepts of Chanakya, just as we marvel at the genius of Aryabhatta, Ramanujan and Shakuntala Devi and ponder the vision of Guru Nanak and Vivekananda, Gandhi and Tagore, Aurobindo and Nehru. 

We get enthralled by the genius of India as it balances the fine logic of science with the intricate dance of Shiva, as it merges the wisdom of the distant past with the promise of the expanding future, as it celebrates the excitement of Bollywood and contemplates the divine energy of Bharat Natyam. 

To journey to the wonder that is India, the incredible India, to the sacred and the sacrilegious, to its tantalising simplicity and inexorable complexity, to its multiple colours and its ever-changing-never-changing rangoli, its unity in diversity, its myriad beliefs and faiths, its varied customs and costumes, infinite forms of art and architecture, mosaic of language and literature, exciting innovations in science and technology, breath-taking feats in sports and games, soul-stirring music and mesmerising magic, limitless flora and fauna… is to witness the whole universe assemble here.

This is what I see when I make my pilgrimage to your country of ancient civilisations and diverse cultures, of divine seats of awakening and mighty portals of learning, of timeless prophecies and bold experiments, at once a land of plenty, at once a land of poverty, enigma and enlightenment.

India’s sages and seers, prophets and teachers have seen it inside out and outside in and they have seen the world and seen it whole. Generations of enlightened minds have given to this sub-continent the finest gifts of learning and brought it to this enviable level. 

I see that when visitors from India come to the Land of the Peaceful Dragon, they are often awed by the sheer scale and awesome grandeur of our mighty dzongs perched on precipitous rocks and by the stories of hidden treasures, the tales of the flying tigress as indeed the adventures of the divine mad man. They admire the far-sighted vision of our monarchs and the uniqueness of our ancient culture and centuries-old civilisation. Above all, our guests are fascinated by the all-embracing, sustainable development vision of Gross National Happiness that has caught the attention and admiration of the world.

Just as India’s generous assistance has helped Bhutan’s infrastructure development efforts right from the inception of our five-year planning process, there is genuine appreciation of Bhutan’s goodwill and strategic role by India. Joint collaboration in hydropower generation, for instance, has seen both the countries enjoying visible dividends over the years.

In more recent years, cooperation has diversified in more sophisticated and vital realms of intangible and softer domains that add meaning and purpose to life and living for our peoples and societies. It is most heartening to note a deeper level of interest in India in the holistic vision of development that Bhutan has pioneered. Several institutions have initiated programmes based on Gross National Happiness as a part of their curriculum. Public discourses on sustainable development are often inspired by the all-embracing vision of GNH.

The vision of holistic education as the instrument of human and societal flourishing as presented in a modest book titled “My Green School” has been received with much interest among academics and policy-makers in India. Nanna Parni Shalle, for instance, is the title of the Kannada edition of “My Green School” published by Manipal University in Karnataka State. 

Translated into the oldest living language in the world, and published by a team of Tamil scholars and education advocates, the Tamil edition of “My Green School” is humbly dedicated to the generations of great Indian teachers who travelled to Bhutan right from the beginning of our planned socio-economic development in the early 1960s and taught our children and youth over many decades, till they retired from here. 

I was deeply humbled to discover that in his Foreword to the Hindi edition of “My Green School”, the Honourable Minister of Education, Union of India, Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, describes the core message of the book as ‘Sanjeevani’ – miracle cure – for modern education and notes its compelling link to the ancient Indian educational thought as well as its affinity with the New Education Policy 2020, stressing the potential benefit of the book to tens of millions of Hindi speakers. 

Published by the Jaipuria Institute of Management, Rajasthan, Mera Vidhaya-Anandalaya, as the Hindi edition is called, is prayerfully dedicated to the exemplary India-Bhutan relationship built on goodwill, integrity and trust over many years.  

Collaboration amongst educational institutions has been growing and deepening over the years at different levels as has understanding and appreciation of each others’ cultural and spiritual heritage and national aspiration. 

It will be in the mutual interest of India and Bhutan to continue nurturing and improving these vital links that transcend physical, material and political considerations and encourage succeeding generations of our peoples to discover the deeper and sublimer elements of our relationship nurtured on mutual  respect and honour through the years.

The Nehru-Wangchuck Cultural Centre in Thimphu is doing an excellent job of fostering interest in multiple areas that touch the deep chords of the cultural and social life of our people in both the countries. India’s ancient art of Yoga, for instance, has found many enthusiastic practitioners at all levels in Bhutan. The meditation sessions, art and music classes, reading and writing competitions, and a host of seminars and celebrations have enriched the experiences and deepened the appreciation of Indian culture among many Bhutanese citizens.  

I was struck by the incredible ease and facility with which many of our Bhutanese children and youth rendered the most profound writings and compositions of some of the greatest minds in the Indian cultural and literary heritage through their flawless Hindi during the celebration of the 2020 World Hindi Day at the Centre. 

It is chastening to remember that it was the Father of Modern Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who interpreted the chaste Hindi of the first Prime Minister of independent India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, at the public address on the lawns of Ugyen Pelri Palace in Paro, during the historic visit of India’s great statesman that paved the way for the remarkable India-Bhutan relationship which has grown stronger and deeper with each passing year. 

The Nehru-Wangchuck Cultural Centre in Thimhpu is a living tribute to the legacy of the visionary leaders. 

Many Indian citizens, especially teachers, have become proficient users of our national language, Dzongkha, and other dialects in their places of work. Some of our senior teachers have even acted as interpreters between Bhutanese officials and citizens in different parts of the country in the past. 

An important function of art and culture is the sharpening of human sensibilities. It will be in the desirable scheme of things to leverage the redemptive power of our cultural richness and social graces to elevate and edify our relationships and take it to the next level. 

The logic of politics and economics is the chiselling of fine statements and the presentation of material quantities and quantifiable numbers. Art and culture progress through insight and symbolism that deepen the understanding and enlarge the vision.  

Art and culture are less loud but more profound, less dramatic but more permanently enduring. They mirror the society in time and space but they transcend the mirror and suggest the vision of a world and a life that is fuller and more fulfilling.  

Imagine our world and our life and indeed imagine our bilateral relationship and see them through the eyes of the poet and the musician! It will be a world such as we always wished it to be!

May this exemplary bond of India-Bhutan relationship flourish to greater heights and deeper fulfilment and inspire generations of our citizens to do their part to add fragrance to gold…

Contributed by  Thakur S Powdyel

Part of an address delivered by Thakur S Powdyel, former Minister of Education, Royal Government of Bhutan, during the Bilateral Conference on India-Bhutan Relations, on January 17, 2020, New Delhi, India. The earlier version was published in Window on Bhutan by the Royal Bhutanese Embassy, New Delhi.

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