India-Bhutan Relations: A Small State’s Quest for Freedom

Mahmudur Mahmudur


Bhutan is located on the eastern ridges of the Himalayas between the Assam-Bengal Plain of India to the south and the Plateau of Tibet of southwestern China to the north. In British India the colonial administration established a classical hegemonic relationship with the remote kingdom. In the Treaty of Punakha (1910) the sovereignty of the Bhutanese Royal government was recognized in exchange for submitting control of foreign relations to the British. In independent India, the Himalayan Kingdoms were sandwiched between India and China, facing an uncertain future about their political sovereignty. India concluded a new Treaty with Bhutan (the India-Bhutan Treaty of Peace and Friendship) in 1949, which was designed to remain in force “in perpetuity,” consolidating the essence of the British hegemonic policy of controlling smaller neighbors, with India being the new imperial power. Bhutan became a member state of the UN in 1971 after India finally agreed to sponsor its application, but the small state has limited authority to conduct foreign relations without prior consent from India, and it does not even enjoy formal diplomatic relationship with any of the five permanent members in the United Nations. Bhutan’s quest to wield control over its own affairs free of the influence of India remains unfulfilled.

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