Between Giants

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan is stirring with life as
its young population aspires for change.

By S.G Jilanee | January 2020

With its less than a million people, the majority of them young, Bhutan sits serenely ensconced between two giants, India and China, playing its cards carefully in order to cultivate friendly relations with both.

The dispute between Hindus and Muslims for the ownership of the site goes back to centuries. It all started when Mir Baqi, a commander in Babur’s army, built a mosque in the name of the emperor in 1528. Later, the Hindus disparaged the mosque as they believed it was built on the ruins of a temple that was put up to commemorate the birthplace of their deity – Ram Lalla. After the fall of the Mughal Empire and dawn of the British rule in 1857, communal differences between the Hindus and Muslims grew further. Consequently, a suit was filed in vain by Mahant Raghubar Das in 1885 seeking permission to erect the Ram Temple at the disputed site. However, the partition in 1947 changed the overall spectrum of the region, especially post-independence India, where the Hindu nationalism mantra was creeping into the society. This culminated in a communal quarrel when a mob secretly placed Ram’s idols inside the mosque in 1949 leading to the closure of the mosque for any kind of worship. In response, both the Nimrohi Akhara (a Hindu religious denomination) and the Sunni Waqf Board filed cases seeking control of the site. Since then, the matter had become a bone of contention between Hindus and Muslims in India.

With China, it has no formal diplomatic relations. Relations in general have been historically tense. China shares a contiguous border of 470 kilometres with Bhutan and its territorial disputes with the country have been a source of potential conflict. Since the 1980s, though, the two governments have conducted regular talks on border and security issues aimed at reducing tensions

Along with the occupation of Tibet, the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army occupied eight western Tibetan enclaves under Bhutanese administration.

Chinese soldiers and Tibetan herdsmen also provoked tensions in Bhutan. This led to imposition of a cross-border trade embargo and closing of the border. On the other hand, Bhutan has established extensive military ties with India

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The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of SouthAsia. He can be reached at ghulamjil@outlook.com

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