• For much of its history, Bhutan has preserved its isolation from the outside world, staying out of international organisations and maintaining few bilateral relations.
    • Bhutan had come under the British suzerainty after clashing with the colonial powers in 1865 after Duar War.
    • In 1910, the British had signed the Treaty of Punakha with Bhutan which allowed the British to guide its foreign affairs and defence. This laid the foundation of the relation between India and Bhutan in subsequent times.
  • After the British had left the subcontinent, the relationship between India and Bhutan saw a continuity of this pattern. The Bhutanese agent in India continued to function as before while political representative from India based in Sikkim contributed in looking after Bhutan.
  • The Bhutanese were apprehensive about their future relations with India in years leading to the latter’s independence.
    • When the British Cabinet Mission had visited India in 1946, the Bhutanese authorities presented a memorandum about their country’s separate identity as compared to the princely states in the then India.
    • The Cabinet Mission had confirmed the political status of Bhutan and the latter remained autonomous when the British had exited the following year.
  • The Bhutanese were still apprehensive about India’s dominance and forged an alliance with Sikkim and Tibet to create a balance. But the former prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, assured Bhutan about its distinct identity and autonomy.
  • In April 1948, a Bhutanese delegation arrived in India and urged the Ministry of External Affairs to revise the treaty signed between the British India and Bhutan in 1865 after the Duar War. India reciprocated and reiterated its respect for Bhutan’s independence provided the latter also maintained the same rapport it had with the Britishers.
  • Thimpu then demanded to enter into a fresh treaty with New Delhi which the latter welcomed, thinking that close relation with the Himalayan kingdoms would nullify any serious threat emanating from the Chinese side.

1949 Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship:

  • Consequently, India and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship on August 8, 1949, in Darjeeling.
  • The main feature of this treaty is that the King of Bhutan, for the first time, had signed a treaty as a sovereign monarch and both countries expressed the desire to maintain cordial relations with each other. The treaty contained 10 articles.
    • Article 1 said that the two governments will have a perpetual peace and friendship between them.
    • Article 2 declared that India would not interfere in Bhutan’s administrative affairs and the latter would be guided by the former’s advice in its external relations.
    • Article 5 and 6 said both states would develop free trade and commerce and Bhutan would import arms, ammunition, machinery and warlike material only through India.
    • Under Article 7, both countries agreed that subjects of both countries residing in each other’s territory would enjoy equal justice.
    • Article 9 empowered both countries to extradite criminals taking refuge in each other’s territory.
  • Through the 1949 treaty, Bhutan entered into a special relation with India and laid the foundation for greater assistance for its economic development.
  • The Indo-Bhutan treaty became the cornerstone of Bhutan’s foreign policy and the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1950 strengthened this relation further as both nations began to see a common threat in Beijing.
  • The relation between the two neighbours had a fluent run till 1959.
    • In 1954, the then Bhutanese king Jigme Dorji Wangchuk visited India and four years later, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited Bhutan. He reiterated India’s wish that Bhutan remained an independent entity.
    • Next year, when the Chinese military crackdown in Tibet led to the Lhasa Uprising, Nehru even told the Indian Parliament that any act of aggression against Bhutan would be considered an act of aggression against India.

Signs of gap between the two countries

  • In 1959, when Bhutan requested India about participating in negotiations with the Chinese for resolving the Sino-Bhutanese border disputes in the wake of the Chinese repression in Tibet, India turned it down.
  • In May 1960, a misunderstanding arose between India and Bhutan over a map which was released by the India side.
    • Bhutan said the map had not shown the border between the two countries as an international one.
    • Bhutanese National Assembly or Tshogdu argued that it was time for Bhutan to have direct diplomatic relations (challenging Article 2 of the 1949 treaty).

Bhutan’s growing assertion

  • Bhutan gradually began to assert its independence in the economic sphere.
    • During the 1960s, it convinced India in having direct economic relations with other countries to work for its development.
    • It negotiated with a Swedish company for establishing a paper factory in its own soil and also invited French nuns to develop medicinal services.
  • In 1961, Bhutan and New Delhi signed a pact to harness the Jaldhaka River for generating 18,000 Kilowatts of hydro-electric power of which Bhutan would receive free supply of 250 KWs. This project was completed in 1966.
  • Besides, a 120-mile road was also built at the Assam border to connect Bhutan. India also constructed roads in Bhutan.
  • While India repeatedly reiterated its military support to Bhutan, the latter expressed concerns about India’s ability to protect Bhutan against China while fighting a two-front war involving Pakistan.
  • During the 1962 Sino-Indian war, some of the Indian troops had crossed into the Bhutanese territory.
  • Bhutan continued with its effort to establish an independent identity.
    • In 1962, Bhutan joined the Colombo Plan with India’s assistance and received an international status for the first time.
    • In 1968, Bhutan attended the UNCTAD (United Nations Conference for Trade and Development) session in New Delhi and barred unauthorized foreigners, including Indians, from entering its territory.
    • In 1969, Bhutan also started its own currency.
    • In 1970, it formed its own foreign affairs department.
    • In 1971, it was admitted in the United Nations (though with India’s help).


  • Official Indian policy after independence came to assert India’s interest in the integrity and territorial inviolability of India’s smaller neighbours.
  • Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s statement in parliament on December 6, 1950: ‘From time(s) immemorial, the Himalayas have provided us with magnificent frontiers…We cannot allow that barrier to be penetrated because it is also the principal barrier to India. Therefore much as we appreciate the independence of Nepal, we cannot allow anything to go wrong in Nepal or permit that barrier to be crossed or weakened, because that would be a risk to our own security.’

Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1950

  • Nehru’s activism vis-á-vis Nepal finds reflection in the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, 1950 and an agreement governing both bilateral trade and trade transiting Indian soil (July 31, 1950) against the backdrop of a growing movement against Rana rule by the Nepali Congress.
  • The 1950 treaty and letters exchanged between the then Indian government and Rana rulers of Nepal, stated that
    • neither government shall tolerate any threat to the security of the other by a foreign aggressor” and
    • obligated both sides “to inform each other of any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighbouring state likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisting between the two governments.”
  • These accords cemented a “special relationship” between India and Nepal that granted Nepalese the same economic and educational opportunities as Indian citizens in India and preferential treatment to Indians compared to other nationalities in Nepal.
  • The Indo-Nepal border remained open; Nepalese and Indian nationals could freely across the border without passports or visas and live and work in either country.

Growing Assertion of Nepal

  • In the 1950s, the Rana rulers of Nepal welcomed close relations with India.
    • Rana rule in Nepal however collapsed within 3 months of signing the Treaty.
    • As the number of Indians living and working in Nepal’s Terai region increased and the involvement of India in Nepal’s politics deepened in the 1960s and after, so too did Nepal’s discomfort with the special relationship.
  • Clearly, the end of Rana rule was accelerated by China’s re-establishment of control and authority in Tibet.
    • Thereafter, Nepal’s quest for security gained a new vitality, gaining momentum after the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict.
    • This came after India granted asylum and encouragement to Nepali political dissidents angered at King Mahendra’s takeover of December 1960.
  • Other significant measures were the signing of a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with China in April 1960 and the opening of the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu in August the same year.
  • Yet another was the 1961 agreement with China to construct a highway connecting Kodari, on the Nepal-Tibet border, to Kathmandu. It was clearly meant to increase Nepal’s strategic options, especially since her capital was then linked by road solely with India.
  • Tensions came to a head in the mid-1970s, when Nepal pressed for substantial changes in the trade and transit treaty and openly criticized Sikkim’s 1975 annexation by India.

History of Nepal’s Assertiveness

  • On April 21, 1947, before the British withdrew from India, Nepal had secured recognition as an independent nation from the United States.
    • This was followed on April 25, 1947 by an agreement of friendship and commerce providing for the establishment of diplomatic and consular relations.
  • Thus, even before Nehru made the ominous statements on Nepal, it had entered into diplomatic relations with the U.K., the U.S. and France, which made it impossible for India to contemplate action against Nepal, as was done against the Indian princely states.
  • Even during the twilight years of the Rana regime, Nepal wisely chose to expand its ties to the outside world to enhance its standing and international visibility.
    • A key milestone was Nepal’s initial move to secure membership of the United Nations in 1947. Because of cold war politics this was delayed until December 15, 1955.
  • In 1955, Nepal participated in the Afro-Asian Conference at Bandung, after having attended her first international conference in March 1947: the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi.
  • In 1961, King Mahendra led the Nepalese delegation to the first-ever summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Belgrade.
    • National security as a key priority is reflected in King Mahendra’s pronouncement at the Belgrade Non-aligned Movement summit: ‘Nepal has made clear in the United Nations and outside that she is opposed to all domination over any country by another.’
  • Nepal’s foreign policy design was further substantiated by it establishing diplomatic relations with Pakistan in 1960 and an embassy there in 1964.


  • Shortly after independence on 4 February 1948 the new Sinhalese dominated government of Ceylon (old name of Sri Lanka) introduced the Ceylon Citizenship Bill before Parliament.
    • ‘The outward purpose of the Bill was to provide means of obtaining citizenship, but its real purpose was to discriminate against the Indian Tamils (who were brought by British from Tamil Nadu to work in tea, coffee and coconut plantations of Ceylon) by denying them citizenship.
    • The Bill was opposed fiercely in Parliament by the Ceylon Indian Congress, which represented the Indian Tamils, and the Sinhalese leftist parties.
    • The Bill was passed by Parliament on 20 August 1948 and became law on 15 November 1948, just 285 days after Ceylon had gained independence from Britain.
    • Only about 5,000 Indian Tamils qualified for citizenship. More than 700,000 people, about 11% of the population, were denied citizenship and made stateless.

Nehru-Kotelawala Pact, 1954

  • On 18 January 1954 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Ceylon Prime Minister John Kotelawala signed the Nehru-Kotelawala Pact under which India agreed to the repatriation of any Indian Tamil who wanted Indian citizenship.
  • But India refused to automatically provide Indian citizenship to those who did not qualify for Ceylon citizenship.

Sirima-Shastri Pact, 1964

  • On 30 October 1964 Indian Prime Minister Lal Shastri and Ceylon Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike signed the Sirima-Shastri Pact (also known as the Indo-Ceylon Agreement) under which India agreed to the repatriation of 525,000 Indian Tamils.
  • Another 300,000 would be offered Ceylon citizenship.
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