KOLKATA: Geopolitically described as ‘a yam between two rocks’, youth of tiny Himalayan nation Bhutan fear their country — that places happiness over anything else — would have to bear the trauma of a China-India war if the stand-off between the Asian giants does not get de-escalated.
The moves by the People’s Liberation Army of China to build a road from Dokola towards Royal Bhutan Army camp in Zompelri on the contested 89 sq km barren Doklam plateau on June 16 has resulted in a border stand-off and aggressive exchange of warnings and rhetoric between the two nations, which has further worsened the situation.
With the ministry of foreign affairs of the Royal Bhutan government remaining tight-lipped for nearly a month since issuing a statement on June 29 demanding status quo in the Doklam area to June 16 position and asserting that construction of a road inside Bhutanese territory is direct violation of written agreements between China and Bhutan in 1988 and 1998, many Bhutanese youth have expressed their restlessness over their government not taking the lead to bring down tension.
An analysis of posts and comments of the public Facebook group ‘Bhutanese Forums’, which has 1.08 lakh members out of total 7.5 lakh residents of Bhutan, points out that though many elders and middle-aged Bhutanese support the ‘middle path’ — an essential element of Tibetan Buddhism — in diplomacy to deal with both India and China, the restless youth want a solution to the crisis initiated by Bhutan and stop playing second fiddle to the neighbours.
“Is our country a place for India and China to show off their military power? Our country is being taken for granted by our neighbours,” posted Sonam Tobgay.
While many such posts led to discussions and debates, questions and allegations raised in one particular post by Sonam Tashi titled ‘Who is Bullying Bhutan?’ is of particular concern for India. The 2,325-word FB post has not only created a furore and exposed the sharp divisions among the Bhutanese people over the role of India but also has been republished by top Chinese media outlets to claim that it represented the general views of the Bhutanese.
The article questions every aspect of Indian involvement in the country, from Indian military presence to alleged Indian involvement in 2013 elections to alleged interference to prevent an Asian Development Bank project to build the East-West highway across the country, that would have allegedly affected Border Roads Organisation’s ‘DANTAK’ road building project in Bhutan.
The post opened up a lively discussion among the Bhutanese, with a majority supporting the need to maintain equal distance from both the countries. But as divided as the country has now become over the Doklam row, several Bhutanese extolled the contributions of India and Indian Army over the past 60 years for the growth of Bhutan and held in high regard by their kings who had stretched the arm of friendship after over 70 years of isolation from the rest of the world.
Some even expressed skepticism over friendship with China, fearing the same fate as that of Tibet, a region to the north of Bhutan from where it draws much of spirituality. A country that has now opened up to the globalised world brought to them through social media, assertions of the Bhutanese identity have been strengthened by the China-India face-off.