“…the suspicion, there has been one exception –

“…the Indo-Bhutan ties are a model in international relations today. India is a big power and Bhutan is a small land locked kingdom. Still, we get along very well. What can be more satisfying than this model relationship?”The then Foreign Minister Dawa Tshering of Bhutan said in an interview to The Tribune.Intro.In a region which is characterised by the familiar trend of deep mistrust and suspicion, there has been one exception – the Indo-Bhutan relations. Both the countries have been able to strike the right chord and have been able to sustain their friendship.  Bhutan was a protectorate of British India and New Delhi inherited this relationship in 1947. The treaty of 1949 between India and Bhutan is said to be the fulcrum of the relations between both the countries that too was revised in 2007. Notwithstanding several geopolitical pulls and pressures, Bhutan has steadfastly and unshakeably stood behind India as its most reliable ally. The actual relationship has however remained somewhat complex and enigmatic.This paper makes an attempt to answer some of the lingering questions pertaining to various facets in the context of Indo-Bhutan relations. The questions have been enumerated below :- What are the factors which link the two countries? Does the relationship serve only Bhutanese interests or is it equally beneficial to India? What are the challenges that the relationship will face in the future in the context of the dynamic domestic, regional and international environment? Bhutan’s Interests.For Bhutan, its relations with India have been beneficial on three specific fronts: the domestic, international and economic.Economy.    Bhutan is not only a landlocked country but also extremely backward. India helped Bhutan to come out of isolation and completely financed the first two five- year plans. The Indian government is involved in many projects, which include hydropower plants, cement plants, roads, etc. Hydropower exports provide more than 40% of the domestic revenues and constitute around 25% of Bhutan’s GDP.In this sense, Bhutan has benefited enormously India’s assistance.Bhutan’s economy affair’s minister, Norbu Wangchuk, during an interview said that, the benefits of prosperity and strength of Prime Minister Modi’s initiative “Make in India” is bound to overflow into the Bhutanese economy. He further said that when India becomes global manufacturing hub, Bhutan will gain, because of Bhutan’s abundant natural resources, such as hydro power and mineral resources, that will be able to provide as components to some of the goods and products India manufactures.Transit of Goods.    Being a landlocked country, India provides Bhutan with about 16 transit routes.      There is a free trade regime between India and Bhutan. Movement of Bhutanese goods through India accompanied by the Transit Declaration is not subject to any sample checking by the Indian authorities except in cases where a specific information is made available to the Indian Customs authorities about consignment.Air Travel.    A citizen of Bhutan entering India by Land or Air does not require passport or VISA for entry into India. Education.    Popularity of India as an education destination for Bhutanese students is a reference-point for close bilateral ties.Today, as many as one third of Bhutan’s student population are pursuing higher education in India.(ii)    The main drivers behind majority of Bhutanese students preferring India are lower costs (one rupee is equivalent to one ngultrum) and availability of scholarships. Bhutanese students also enjoy the friendly atmosphere filled with warmth that they find in India.    Scholarships.    Several scholarships are granted every year by India to meritorious Bhutanese students. Some of the maj scholarship schemes are enlisted below:-Under Graduate and Post Graduate scholarship.   Under this scheme, 450 slots have been approved for Bhutanese students to pursue Under graduate courses in India. Every year GoI provides fully funded ninety scholarships to deserving Bhutanese students in different professional streams. In the last four years a total of 370 students have been selected for this scholarship.Nehru- Wangchuk Scholarship.    Ambassador’s Scholarship.Aid to Bhutan ICCR Scholarship.ITEC Training Programme Scheme.Sports.    India offers excellent opportunities and a viable platform to the budding sportsmen from Bhutan. Chencho Gyeltshen who is currently representing Minerva Punjab FC in the ongoing Indian Super League is one such example.Tpt.    The No. of Bhutanese vehs plying on Indian roads far exceeds the Indian vehs in the dragon kingdom. This is a common sight across all the border cities. The Bhutanese still undertake a maj portion of their journey through Indian road space while travelling towards east. Bilateral Trade.    India is Bhutan’s largest trading partner. In 2016 the total bilateral trade stood at Rs 8,723 crores. The exports from Bhutan were recorded at Rs 3,205.2 crores including electricity (90% of Bhutan’s total exports).India’s Interests. India presently follows a policy of mutual benefit from the projects which are being undertaken in Bhutan. The market for these projects will be India and in this manner it also ensures the development of the north-eastern part of India.Security.    Bhutan has immense security imperatives for India. A stable and independent Bhutan is a prerequisite for it to be an effective buffer state.Hydro Power.    Hrdropower Projects in Bhutan are an example of win – win cooperation, providing a reliable source of inexpensive and clean electricity to India. The Chukha and Tala  Hydel power projects ensures power supply to parts of West Bengal and Assam. Such projects help in partially resolving the power shortage problem. Image in Intl arena.    The goodwill India is able to generate through its activities are likely to ensure that irrespective of changes that might come in the future in the political structures in Bhutan, the positive attitude towards India will not change. Bhutan sees it in its own interest to be friendly with India as it is beneficial to it economically and in the international arena.Tourism    Bhutan is isolated from the maximum parts of the world, in fact, tourist from the west are rarely seen in Bhutan, but Indian tourists enjoy a visa-free movement into Bhutan, with acceptance of the Indian currency as well as the similar currency exchange rate.Trade.    India’s limitless budgetary support loans, grants and lines of credit in billions of crores including the setting up of hydropower-plants have been useful for Bhutan, but have also helped India capture the benefits. Bhutan’s merchandise exports (95%) and imports (75%) to and from India reflect this dependency. As per a recent study, “90 to 95% of what Bhutan borrows from India goes back to India”.Employment.    There are about 60,000 Indian nationals living in Bhutan. They are mostly employed in the hydro-electric power and constr industry. In addition around 8000- 10000 Indian daily workers enter and exit Bhutan everyday in border towns.Conclusion    Bhutan has gained immensely from the special relations it has had with India in all aspects of its development as a nation. It has grown in international stature and its sovereignty is fully recognised. Economically, India has helped in its all-round development. Further, India has adhered to the clause that it will not interfere in the internal affairs of Bhutan.In the field of education both countries need to take concrete measures to increase transparency, accountability and efficiency in regulating admission and study of Bhutanese students in India.Cooperation between India and Bhutan is set to intensify in all spheres in the years to come. Indo- Bhutan relations is a win – win sit for both the nations, however the pendulum of accruing more advantages seems to be favouring the Bhutanese more in the overall gambit.