India was not an election issue, unlike in the 2013 poll when confusion over New Delhi disrupting kerosene subsidies had drawn attention.
Bhutan is deceptively languid. However, the election to the National Assembly (Parliament) late last month gave the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), a relatively new party emphasising hitherto unspoken thoughts, 30 of the 47 seats, making its leader, Dr Lotay Tshering, Prime Minister.
India was not an election issue, unlike in the 2013 poll when confusion over New Delhi disrupting kerosene subsidies had drawn attention. But the DNT manifesto highlighted economic factors that have a close bearing on India-Bhutan relations. India would overlook this at its own peril at a time when the China factor looms large.
Beijing has used its economic muscle to try and win over India’s friends. China’s annexation of Tibet in the ’50s had frightened Buddhist Bhutan and Sikkim (then under the Chogyal), but much has changed since. Thimphu’s principal foreign friend has been India, which built its hydropower potential, became its main financier and export destination, the relationship cocooned by a special treaty.
But the country’s young and educated new generation voters are not focused on security. The India-China standoff last year at Doklam, disputed between China and Bhutan, is not really the talking point. Discussion led by the new ruling party centres on expanding private sector investment to cut high unemployment, and diversifying the economy which currently depends principally on India-built hydropower with three-fourths of the GDP going to pay for debts owed to India. Resolving boundary disputes with China too is on people’s mind. New Delhi must take nothing for granted.