Bhutan is rudely surprised by India’s sudden withdrawal of subsidy on liquid petroleum gas and kerosene this week. This is going to directly impact a huge section of the Bhutanese population. But the bigger concern is the timing of the withdrawal of subsidy. It has come at a time when the general election is around the corner and two political parties are politicising Bhutan’s relations with India. We trust that India is not interested in meddling in Bhutan’s democratic affairs. We hope that our political parties will come together on this issue and not try to use it against each other for short-term electoral gains. We should agree in disagreement on such issues.
The sudden increase in gas price should teach us an important lesson – how vulnerable Bhutan can be if she took things for granted. Requesting India to reconsider the withdrawal of subsidy is trying to find a short-term solution. We need to look at it in a new national perspective to find a long-term solution. As long as we are totally dependent on others, we will have to continue to eat humble pie. Today it’s gas and kerosene. Tomorrow it could be food items. This will end on the day we are self-sufficient. This gives us a signal to start working for self-sufficiency.
Bhutan is well-placed and well-endowed to achieve self-sufficiency. For centuries before modernisation, our forefathers had been self-sufficient in food, clothing, energy, and most other basic needs. The only essential they imported was salt. Modernisation has made us more dependent on others, particularly India. Today, we are heavily but so happily dependent on others that we often forget the ultimate cost of dependence. Being self-sufficient is about standing on our own feet, living in our own terms, and realising true self-determination. It’s ultimately about our sovereignty. As a proud nation, we do not want to be bullied around by anybody.
India will lift subsidies or increase prices of certain items depending on their economic situation and policy decisions. This is the reality we will have to face increasingly from now on. It is myopic to expect our good friends like India to provide for our sustenance. We need to wean ourselves off too much subsidies and help. When we are faced with abrupt withdrawal of subsidies, we need to learn to think and act beyond knee-jerk reactions. If what we call progress makes us more vulnerable, there is something seriously wrong about it. For example, today we are building houses where our forefathers had grown their food. The people of a once self-sufficient country are today rocked by an increase in gas price. Where did the rain start beating us?
Meanwhile, we call upon our politicians not to barter the soul of our nation. Debates and criticisms are important, but only as far as the national interests start. Some issues will make a good political case, but they will be detrimental to the nation. After all, the nation is more important than political parties and their objectives.