The victory of the opposition People’s Democratic Party in Bhutan is a snub to former prime minister Jigme Thinley and his policies. The result shows that the people have wisely chosen an alternative to the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, which had been calling the shots since its victory in the first national election five years ago. It also proves that parliamentary democracy has taken roots in the landlocked nation, which still retains the old name, the Kingdom of Bhutan. Though India has tried to maintain close friendship with Bhutan, their bilateral ties have come under strain, as underscored by India’s recent decision not to subsidise distribution of petroleum products like diesel and kerosene in Bhutan.
India’s decision to withdraw subsidy could have influenced voting, though that might not have been its objective. Thinley had only himself to blame for the strained relations. India owes certain defence and diplomatic responsibilities to Bhutan, which is expected to take the neighbour into confidence on such issues. Alas, Thinley had, of late, been coming closer to China in the name of adopting an independent foreign policy. He also did not think it necessary to inform, let alone consult, India even when Bhutan established diplomatic ties with other countries. India often came to know about such developments only after they hit the headlines in the media. That was not the case when the king was not just a titular head.
Thinley was the architect of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness project, which had found many takers in political and academic circles. However, the GNH could not hide the sorrow of nearly 1 lakh Nepalis, staying in Bhutan for generations, who were branded illegal and forced out. His defeat clears the way for India to re-establish its friendly ties with Bhutan. Subsidy for petroleum products is a small price India has to pay for the happiness of the Bhutanese, who should not feel that India has been playing big brother. Rapprochement and reconciliation should guide India-Bhutan relations in future.