The ambassador of India to Bhutan, Gautam Bambawale gave a lecture on the relation between India and Bhutan in the coming decades at Royal Thimphu College (RTC) on 15th April.
The ambassador told the students of RTC that India and Bhutan are neighbors and friends, emphasizing two countries are equal in their relationship though they are different in the size of land and population. “India and Bhutan are both economically interdependent and this is the factor that brings a very close relationship between two countries. We are very strong partners in trade. In terms of amount, the figures might seem rather small for a big country like India, but still it is very important for us to expand our trade relationship, which will be happening over the years,” he said.
Mr. Bambawale also pointed out the strong bilateral ties have been made possible by Bhutan’s Monarchy. “ The ambassador thanked the Royal Government of Bhutan and the His Majesty the King for their very warm welcome for India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi when he visited Bhutan last year. He said Bhutan made a deep impression on the prime minister.
Also mentioned in the lecture was the increasing number of Indian tourists visiting Bhutan. Indian tourists are from all over the country and more importantly, the ambassador said, they are high-end tourists. Connectivity to Bhutan including transportation and IT infrastructure has improved dramatically in recent years. He is convinced that it’s going to be better in coming years.
As for the cooperation in hydro power industry, Some 1,500 MW being generated in Bhutan last year, of which 500 MW was used domestically as most of the country has been now electrified. “India is a power deficit country. We are, of course, expanding our own power generation, but at the same time we are a huge market for Bhutan and will absorb even more power if desired,” Mr. Bambawale spoke jokingly. Bhutan is working on numbers of hydro power projects, which will add 3,000 MW of generation capacity in next three years. He added that the agro processing industry had high potential for Bhutan.
Talking about the future the Indian economy is expected to expand to US $ 7 trillion at current rate in 2030. It could be the third largest economy in the world at that time and in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) the second largest. The ambassador said Bhutan would be a country with high income by 2030. Population might be stabilized at one million, while hydropower and tourism will continue to be high revenue earners, and IT and business processing sector will create a large scale of employment. Therefore private corporate sector employment will be more attractive then government jobs.
He also added that which political party is in office shouldn’t affect the tie of the two countries. “It will not make any material difference to the fact that the relationship of India and Bhutan will be closer and stronger in 2030 than ever before.”
In a question and answer session one student asked about abduction cases in southern Bhutan. The ambassador said that not only the state government but both the local governments of West Bengal and Assam saw the situation around the border area seriously and would take series of measures to solve the problem. A major campaign against some of the militant elements in India has been started in the past couple of months, the ambassador hopes the volatility of the area will be settled. The Indian government also works closely with the Bhutanese authorities including Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) in ensuring safety and security. The level of policing on both side of the border has been increased. “Let me assure that kidnapping and robbery will become things of the past soon,” he stressed.
Another question that came from an Exchange student from the USA with Chinese origin was about the relation of Bhutan and China. He asked, as the economic relation of two countries is about to develop, is there any possibility for Bhutan to tie a diplomatic relation with China. The ambassador only said that as far as the bilateral relationship is concerned it’s entirely up to Bhutan and China. “It’s a matter that the Bhutanese people and government have to decide for themselves.”
It was informed that the management of RTC and the Indian government had decided to set up a new scholarship which will commence from the end of this year. Those who are going to graduate from RTC will have an opportunity to apply for a master’s degree in India.