India’s Engagement with Nepal and Bhutan: What can India do More?
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Amidst rising tensions along India’s northern border, does India’s engagement with Nepal and Bhutan meet its strategic requirements, and what else can India do more? To discuss these questions, a webinar was organised on “India’s Engagement with Nepal and Bhutan: What can India do more?” on 03 August 2021. Dr Arvind Gupta, Director, Vivekananda International Foundation, welcomed speakers- Amb. Ranjeet Rae, Amb. Manjeev Puri, Amb P Haran, Prof. Rajesh S Khara and Dr Smruti Patnaik. The session was moderated by Dr Sreeradha Datta.

Nepal

The ongoing changes and looming unpredictability in Nepalese politics require India to engage with all the leading actors in Nepal, including civil society, politicians, and political parties. Also, the demographic changes in Nepal, especially since the advent of globalisation in 1990, the state and people have been infused with aspirations for global outreach and connectivity. Therefore, as the closest neighbour, India should help Nepal meet those needs and requirements of a new democratic Nepal.

As India evolves itself with a changing Nepal, Chinese manoeuvrings continue to grow. The recent high-handedness of China in the political affairs of Nepal has exposed its strategic and expansionist intentions in the Himalayan country. Under the rubric of the Belt and Road Initiative, Trans-Himalayan Railway network, and China-South Asian Countries Poverty Alleviation and Cooperative Development Center, China is asserting its presence in Nepal. However, Chinese promises like the Trans-Himalayan Railway network are too ambitious, and outcomes are yet to be seen. Meanwhile, increasing territorial aggressions in the Himalayan belt should be thought about in Nepal.

Bhutan

Since 2014, bilateral relations between India and Bhutan have received a much-needed reboot. Prime Minister Modi travelled to Bhutan for his first state visit since taking office. In the follow-up, India’s strong response to China in the Doklam region has strengthened bilateral ties. India holds even more responsibility towards Bhutan with an all weather friendship proving its potential in development and strategic sector. The hydropower sector in Bhutan demands that India needs to cut down interest rates levied on loans borrowed to develop hydropower projects. India can also become a gateway for Bhutan to help it reach regional markets like Bangladesh to export its electricity which will be mutually beneficial. To deepen the people to people ties, India needs to support a younger Bhutan with more educational scholarships to study in India. Overall, India’s relations with Bhutan are a matter of integrity which have stood firm for decades.

In the case of China, Bhutan understands the Chinese double standards. For the last 70 years, Bhutan has rejected the Chinese proposal to establish diplomatic ties for two obvious reasons. One, China does not seek a friend in Bhutan rather use it as a strategic depth. Second, it does not want to be challenged by India as it encroaches on Bhutanese territories. In this light, Bhutan continues to count on India for its market, development, assistance, safety and security.

Takeaways

In his concluding remarks, Dr Arvind Gupta pointed out that India’s foreign policy needs an immediate revival to strengthen its goodwill in Nepal and Bhutan despite dedicated policies like Neighbourhood First and Act East. India also has to understand the changing demography of Nepal and Bhutan, especially an aspiring youth willing to go beyond traditional lines of engagement. For this, capacities within India’s diplomatic community need to be built along with public awareness on Nepal and Bhutan. On the other hand, India should stand shoulder to shoulder with Nepal and Bhutan against any territorial aggressions against them from the north. Therefore, India’s proactive and positive approach is the need of the hour.

Event Date 
August 3, 2021

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