Thimphu and Paro were adorned with colourful flags and banners, flying as thousands of students and members of the public welcome the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Bhutan from Paro Airport to Thimphu, demonstrating a genuine welcome. This historic visit will further solidify the existing bilateral relationship and commitment to strengthening the close friendship between India and Bhutan. It will serve as a reaffirmation to India that fostering connectivity, people-to-people contact, mutual trust, and commitment are paramount in realizing the goal of maintaining cordial relations with neighbouring countries. Bhutan occupies a significant position in India’s national security considerations, and Indian assistance to Bhutan must be viewed through the lens of both good neighbourly relations and the protection of India’s own interests.

In 2007, India and Bhutan signed a historic Friendship Treaty, revising the earlier Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 1949. This gesture reaffirmed the mutual respect for each other’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and diplomatic affairs. The 1949 Treaty required consultation with India regarding Bhutan’s foreign affairs, leading some academic publications in India to characterize Bhutan as a protectorate nation of India. The 2007 Treaty allowing Bhutan to decide its foreign affairs, cemented India’s commitment to respecting and acknowledging Bhutan as a fully sovereign and independent nation, regardless of its size and population.

While certain Indian media outlets, both print and broadcast, have at times suggested that Bhutan is tilting towards China and away from India, the two nations at the highest levels, as well as through people-to-people connections, have remained steadfast allies based on mutual trust and respect, which are essential for any true friendship. This does not mean, Bhutan should not engage with other countries, including China.

Bhutan’s economic progress is not only important for Bhutan itself but also in the interest of India, as stronger neighbouring countries, particularly smaller ones like Bhutan, contribute to a more stable regional economy. Furthermore, as Bhutan exits the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and becomes a developing nation, it will continue to seek assistance from India, a friendly nation whose economic growth positions it as a global power. One area where India can significantly assist Bhutan is by facilitating and permitting the export of Bhutanese hydropower to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and beyond. Such a gesture from India will benefit both nations and be in the interest of a developed region as most of the hydropower projects are pet projects of Indo-Bhutan Friendship.

It is undoubtedly true that India will play a vital role in the development of the Gelephu Mindfulness City, the City of Hope for the country, through investments from India’s top private investors, as well as by establishing strong connectivity and enhancing people-to-people contact. India agreeing to connect Bhutan with railway links from two areas and agreeing to allow international flights to use Indian Space to land in Gelephu Mindfulness City are significant genuine gestures from India.

As this historic visit of Prime Minister Modi concludes today, Bhutanese should not expect major announcements from PM Modi. With the Lok Sabha elections 2024 near, under the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by the Election Commission of India (ECI), announcing any financial grants or making announcements until the election is prohibited. However, despite the busy schedule, the visit of Modi itself shows India’s commitment towards the close ties between the two nations. As the 2007 Treaty reflects, “there shall be perpetual peace and friendship between India and Bhutan.”


Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.