On July 1, the Indian government cut off its longstanding cooking gas and kerosene subsidy to Bhutan, leading to the immediate doubling and even tripling of the prices of these items paid by people in Bhutan. This move by India came just before Bhutan’s general elections, and it was clearly timed to influence the outcome of the elections by generating discontent against the incumbent Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Thinley, and his ruling party, the DPT. Thinley had aroused anger in Delhi by “daring” to hold talks with the Chinese premier in May 2012 during the Earth Summit held in Brazil, and for trying to expand Bhutan’s diplomatic relations with China and other countries without Indian “permission”. As it turned out, Thinley and his party were defeated in the elections, and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by Tshering Tobgay won 32 out of 47 seats in the legislature. Shortly afterwards, the UPA government announced that it would restore the subsidy that it had earlier withdrawn!
Although Indian officials called the hostile move of suddenly withdrawing a 50 crore subsidy to India’s “closest ally” in the region as a simple “procedural” issue, nothing could be further from the truth. The Indian state was once again, as it has done so many times in the past, using its economic stranglehold over its smaller neighbours to try and force them to toe its line. What is more, it sought to meddle in the internal politics of a neighbouring country, manipulating the elections and playing one political party off against the other, in the typical manner of imperialist powers in this day and age. This kind of policy is totally unacceptable to the working class and people of India, who desire to live in peace with all our neighbouring countries, with mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty.
To understand what lies behind these latest moves of the Indian government with respect to Bhutan, it is necessary to see the way India has treated the small, landlocked Himalayan neighbouring states of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. In the manner of the British imperialists before them, the Indian ruling class has always regarded the sovereignty of these countries as subordinate to what it considers its strategic interests. This was very clearly stated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who said in the 1950s that “from time immemorial, the Himalayas have provided us with a magnificent frontier…. We cannot let that barrier to be penetrated because it is the principal barrier to India”.
Between 1949 and 1950, India signed treaties of “friendship” with all three countries, which infringed on their sovereignty in different ways. When the rulers of these countries, especially Nepal and Sikkim, did not follow the whims of the Indian government, the Indian state played politics, sometimes using the card of “democracy” to arouse discontent against the ruling monarchs, and at other times playing one political party against the other. In the case of Sikkim, when its king tried to follow a different foreign policy, the Indian state used the excuse of a “riot” against the monarch in Sikkim to take it over and merge it with the Indian Union in 1975. In the case of Nepal, when it objected to Indian policies, the Rajiv Gandhi government slapped a crushing economic blockade on it in 1989 to force it into submission. In the light of this past history, no one can believe that the latest moves of the Indian government towards Bhutan were anything other than gross interference in the internal affairs of the neighbouring country to pressure it to fall in line.
More than 95% of Bhutan’s trade today is with India, and its only access to other countries is through India. India has invested very heavily in some major hydel projects in Bhutan, and most of the power generated through these projects is to come to India. There is a huge Indian military and other presence in this country of just 7.5 lakh people. In recent years, the government and people of Bhutan have, like all countries, shown a desire to have normal economic and diplomatic relations with other countries. In 2007, the Indian government had to agree to replace the earlier 1949 treaty with Bhutan, which gave India control over Bhutan’s foreign affairs, with another. The new treaty talked of mutual respect for each other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and only stipulated that the two sides would “cooperate” with each other in matters affecting each other’s national interests. However, the Indian government clearly had no intention of allowing Bhutan to have normal relations with other countries without its prior permission. In particular, even a move by Bhutan to import 20 buses from China was seen as a slap in the face of India. This shows that India is following an imperialist policy with respect to Bhutan.
It is this imperialist policy of India that is one of the main factors responsible for the continuing tensions and hostilities in our region. It is a fact that India has strained relations with practically every one of its neighbours, who greatly resent Indian bullying. This is a policy that serves the interests of only the ruling bourgeoisie of India, not the working class and people of our country. The Indian people are completely against this meddling in the internal affairs of our neighbours, and any attempts to violate their sovereignty whether through formal treaties or through economic or political pressure. We must demand an immediate end to the Indian state’s imperialist policy towards the neighbouring countries and peoples.