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Juhi Srivastava asked: What role does the soft power play in the India-Bhutan relations?

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  • Medha Bisht replies: India and Bhutan have shared a special relationship since 1950s. It was a display of soft power when the then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reached out to Bhutan in an effort to strengthen ties between the two countries. India's soft power approach to Bhutan is well reflected in its foreign policies ranging from economic to cultural domain. For instance, India has been giving financial assistance to Bhutan towards its five-year plan. Both countries also hold cultural exchange programmes on a regular basis.

    A significant aspect, perhaps ‘learning’ from the India-Bhutan relations is that soft power has long been intertwined within the overall framework. A consequence of this diffused approach resulted in the generation of a goodwill which in turn minimised the possibility of perceptual mismanagement. Alternatively, one can also say that soft power should not be isolated as a specific policy tool. It forms the brick and mortar of a country’s overall policy framework.

    There are many ways through which India can strengthen its overall soft power approach towards Bhutan. First, the cultural collaboration between India and Bhutan should be more institutionalised and should particularly take place not in the capitals but in the bordering states and districts. Second, Bhutan has preserved its cultural uniqueness, which is well-reflected in its policies. The concept of Gross National Happiness is unique and India should establish knowledge platforms, so that it can learn from this endogenously grown concept which offers a middle path between material and spiritual goals.

    Recently, the Delhi Government schools have developed a 'Happiness Curriculum'. While the idea has been attributed to the initiative of the Delhi Government, the ideational inspiration from Bhutan is well recognised. In February 2018, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Manish Sisodia had noted: “At a time when our neighbour Bhutan is formulating its policies to ensure a high Happiness Index for its citizens, by building an activity-based Happiness Curriculum for children studying in our schools, we can not only help enhance their personality but also influence the direction in which we are heading as a society and nation”. Such policy ideas need to be upscaled and made visible in a conscious manner.

    Third, the India-Bhutan relations also rest on strong people-to-people relations. India is an attractive place for Bhutanese pilgrims. In this respect, the facilities and the licences offered to tour companies should be taken seriously and both countries can coordinate to facilitate the same in an effective manner. The lived experiences of the people need to be taken into account, which can offer new ways of informing and envisioning the diplomatic culture of South Asian countries.

    Dr. Medha Bisht is Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi. She was earlier Associate Fellow at IDSA.

    Posted on April 05, 2019

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