Given the local press statements and social media broadcasts from Jaigaon media and individuals, it is now an open secret that there is strong pressure from them to open Bhutan’s Phuentsholing gate.
A transport association there even threatened to blockade Bhutan from essential goods and items, mainly because access to cheap fuel was not available for their trucks.
There have been others also making threats, both overt and covert, only so that Bhutan buckles and opens its gates to allow the flood of Bhutanese customers into Jaigaon shops.
This is even though they know that Bhutan has sealed its borders to prevent COVID-19 community transmission not only in Jaigaon but also across the entire 699 km length with India. Our northern borders have remained closed for decades.
This is even though Jaigaon recently detected 17 cases out of a 100 tests of frontline workers and has a total case of 26 with 4 deaths. Given the limited testing in India the actual cases would be much higher.
This aggressive and arrogant local attitude is in sharp contrast to the Government of India and the West Bengal government who have been very helpful from the start, including during India’s lockdown phase.
The rise of Jaigaon would never have been possible without the rise of Phuentsholing.
However, it seems now that familiarity has bred contempt for Bhutanese among sections of the Jaigaon population.
A solution could be to reduce commercial dependence on the border town now that COVID-19 is here to stay for a while and so other routes need to be explored.
At the larger level it may be important for people in Jaigaon and India to start learning that the Bhutan-India relationship is not a one-way street of Indian aid, but there is a lot that Bhutan also brings to the table.
“Good fences make good neighbors.”