First off, there can be no two ways about it. Any foreign agency in Bhutan should have enough sensitivity to not build signboards inside Bhutan welcoming people into their own country.
This is especially an issue if the signboard is at a prominent location like the gate just outside Paro airport.
I always found the DANTAK sign outside the Phuntsholing gate welcoming people into Bhutan strange, but I guess it is on their soil.
Now this sign was not always there at Paro and it came up in the last few years. This is also the same period when Indian officials started showing up to co-inaugurate or inaugurate even the smallest GoI funded projects in Bhutan. This contrasted with earlier times when they did not even bother to show up leaving it to RGoB figures and officials.
I noted this trend from the time of Ambassador Gautam Bambawale, who in an interview to my paper said that one of his top priorities was to travel to all GoI projects, which he did.
Now Ambassador Bambawale came shortly after the time when there was some ‘tension,’ in Bhutan-India relations over China.
My analysis is that New Delhi must have told its officials and agencies after this period to promote and highlight GoI sponsored projects. The strategy may have been to show how important India is to Bhutan.
I think what DANTAK would have really wanted is a sign saying they built the original Paro-Thimphu highway and also widened most stretches of it. However, a blatant sign like this would be ‘awkward’ and so they seem to have gone with the next best thing of a prominently placed ‘welcome sign’.
Apart from this the RGoB in recent years has been taking over many stretches of roads and highway, as its capacity along with that of Bhutanese contractors improve. One such work was the widening of the road from Chunzom to Isuna on the Paro-Thimphu highway. The job got done but there were a few issues with it with some blacktop coming out and some mini-slides. I remember a small DANTAK sign coming up on the stretch saying ‘We build better roads than this.’
So this seems to be both a case of overzealous promotion of a GoI funded road widening project and also some ‘turf protection’ politics.
DANTAK has done a lot of Bhutan from the 1960’s onwards including even building the old BBS office. For that there will be gratitude in every Bhutanese heart.
However, it is important for DANTAK to remember that it is still a foreign government agency, and by that logic, it should be extra careful about what kind of image it projects in a friendly foreign country like Bhutan.
Sometimes the intention of getting goodwill or stating a subtle point, if not handled properly, can backfire and lead to a major backlash, as shown in the recent instance.
DANTAK might wonder what the hullabaloo is over a welcome sign, but that sign has now become an emotive national issue. A good friend should get the hint and remove it entirely or replace it with something more palatable.
Opinion by Tenzing Lamsang
The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of The Bhutanese