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Relations with India dominate Bhutan polls campaigning

Statesman News Service |

Press Trust of India
THIMPU, 12 JULY: Bhutan’s relations with India and how to improve them have dominated the campaigning for the country’s second national elections with the two major political parties contesting the polls asserting unequivocally that bilateral ties cannot be impacted by minor hiccups.
During their four week-long campaigning, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), which ruled Bhutan for five years since the Himalayan nation turned into a democracy in 2008, and opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have tried to impress upon people that concerns like India’s withdrawal of subsidy to kerosene and cooking gas would be resolved once they form the government.
However, both the parties admitted that it is a closely contested fight and who would form Bhutan’s second democratically elected government after tomorrow’s polling is anyone’s guess.
DPT strategist Rigden Tenzin said Indo-Bhutan relations are so strong that it can always withstand minor hiccups and bound to improve further because of historical, cultural, and economic reasons and no one should have any doubt in his or her mind about it.
“It is the opposition PDP which has confused the people by talking about the issue of subsidy to kerosene and cooking gas. If we form the government, the issue will be taken up with New Delhi and resolved amicably,” Mr Tenzin, a Delhi School of Economics alumni, told PTI.
He said India’s decision came when the interim government was in place and his party DPT cannot be blamed for it and the party was telling people this fact.
India has cut off the gas subsidy to Bhutan since a pact with the country had expired on 30 June.
India yesterday assured Bhutan that it will not make it “suffer” and will proceed on the issue of gas and kerosene subsidy in “full consultation” with the new government there.
However, New Delhi maintained that “careful accounting” was required to ensure proper usage of the subsidy.
Opposition PDP general secretary Sonam Jatsho expressed confidence that his party has a high chance of forming the next government in Thimphu as people showed their support to the party because of certain policies of outgoing Prime Minister and DPT leader Jigmi Y Thinley. 
Mr Jatsho said, “Indo-Bhutan relations are so strong that you cannot imagine that it can be harmed due to some minor issues”.
“We are telling people that doubts about Indo-Bhutan relations getting strained are unfounded. The relations only go deeper and strong. But due to certain policies of the last government, people are a little bit shaky. If we form the government, we will resolve all issues,” he told PTI.
Mr Tenzin felt that the India’s decision to withdraw subsidy to kerosene and cooking gas being supplied to Bhutan has more to do with India’s own economy and abrupt hike ofinternational crude oil price rather than anything else.
“You have to see what difficulty Indian’s economy is facing and how the international crude price is going up,” he said.
Bhutanese people too feel that their country cannot afford to allow ties with New Delhi to be strained as it has to depend on “elder brother India” on everything.
“We get everything from India. Our essential commodities come from India, our children go to India for study, we go for our treatment, businessmen go for trade. So, how can we afford to allow our relations with our elder brother India to be strained,” said Yeshey Dorji, a college teacher.
Sherub Zangmo, a Thimphu resident, said people felt like the elections this time got “tenfold” dirtier than the first election in 2008.
“Party leaders were more focused on beating their opponent and did not hesitate to bring Indo-Bhutan relations in their speech,” he said.
Mr Zangmo said that while bringing in Indo-Bhutan relations, parties accused each other of straining the ties and highlighted the sudden removal of subsidies on kerosene and cooking gas.
This quickly took the campaign to a different level altogether, he said.