Bhutan,which embraced democracy in 2008,voted the main opposition,Peoples Democratic Party,to power on Saturday. From barely two seats in the 47-member Parliament,the PDP has now bagged 32 seats and defeated the ruling Druk Phuensum Tshogpa,which got only 15 seats.
The election campaign in the last two weeks was dominated by Indias stopping of kerosene and cooking gas subsidies. The bitter political campaign over the issue threatened to cast a shadow on the future relations between the two countries.
On New Delhis part,the reason behind the subsidy cut an amount of about Rs 50 crore per year out of the annual Rs 3,500-crore assistance was cited as a procedural issue. Bhutans 10th five-year plan had come to an end,and India failed to anticipate the fallout of zero subsidy before the new government took charge in mid-July. Senior government officials have acknowledged that the timing could have been better. If that reason is correct,it shows a negligent attitude on New Delhis part,and a complete lack of understanding problems of a neighbour,which has trusted India all along. New Delhi has termed the perception that recent cosying up of Thimphu and Beijing led to the subsidy cut as misplaced. However,what South Block mandarins need to realise is that it is increasingly dealing with a new and young Bhutan readying to voice their concerns and aspirations.
The country,which got television only in 1999,now has about one lakh Internet users out of its 7 lakh population. Much of the election campaign,including reaching out to youth,took place through the social media. Almost 56 per cent of Bhutans population is below the age of 25 and more than 30 per cent of the electorate for the 2013 elections were aged between 18 and 25. The economic scenario,coupled with unemployment among youth,is the biggest challenge that Bhutan is facing.
As the new government takes charge in Thimphu,India should not only restore the subsidy immediately but also think of innovative ways to help Bhutan tide over its economic crisis and unemployment. That,however,does not just mean pumping in funds,but helping Bhutan create jobs for its youth.
While New Delhi may take comfort in the fact that the PDPs foreign policy is in alignment with that of the Bhutanese monarchy,which stands for a strong friendship between the two nations,India should not be caught napping as was the case with the fallout of subsidy cut. Or else,New Delhi may be staring at a very different Bhutan.
Shubhajit is an assistant editor based in Delhi