Sunday, September 29, 2013

Slaying JYT Shadow or Constitutional Monarchy Democracy?

The Kuensel editorial of Friday the 27th September, 2013, ended with a food for thought for the public regarding the ruling PDP Party MPs pushing through National Assembly their intent to amend the part of National Assembly Act which covers resignation of an MP, to quote, “What should be weighed today is whether it is really necessary to amend laws just so bruised egos could be mended against ramifications or bearing such a move would have in future”.

I have no comment on “bruised egos” or no egos but it is necessary to hazard a thought on what possible, “ramification or bearing such a move have in future”. I qualify my thoughts as, “hazard” because it is not possible to predict future happenings in totality. And I say it is necessary to hazard a thought because we may be heading towards an end to a dream envisioned by the two Kings of Bhutan when they initiated the Constitutional Monarchy system for democratic governance. And I do not want that to happen and therefore the necessity to make public my thoughts on the issue raised by Kuensel editorial.

The move by Ruling PDP Party MPs to amend National Assembly Act is to retrospectively censure the resignation of the President of DPT from the elected post of Member of Parliament.  This objective was made very clear during the debate in the National Assembly and it is in line with the Speaker’s initial reaction to JYT resignation letter. 

Lyonpo Pema Gyamtso the leader of the Opposition Party has already hinted what the reaction would be if an amendment was rammed through at any time by the ruling party. Like him most Opposition Party MPs may elect to resign than to be a part of a Parliament that is engaged in censuring their Party President and therefore the DPT Party itself. One or two DPT MPs could be induced or seduced to remain with promises of better opportunities so as to preserve a semblance of a two Party system of governance. But in essence, the noble royal dream of a Constitutional Monarchy Democratic system will be shattered. It does not mean that Bhutan will be in political disarray. I think many Bhutanese would be comfortable with the past Monarchy system being re-instated. Frankly it will mean that Bhutanese people will have less number of Bosses to bow down to.

In my assumption, the Constitutional Monarchy system was initiated to meet 3 primary national goals.

1.       To keep in step with people oriented political reforms taking place elsewhere in the world.

2.       To meet the aspirations of the increasing number of educated Bhutanese people who could be trusted to be responsible for their own future. Recently the King made this aspect very clear when His Majesty said that Democracy was not a gift. It was a responsibility given from the Throne to the Bhutanese people.

3.       Ensuring the continuity of the Institution of Monarchy which was established more than 100 years ago to bring peace and stability to Bhutan. The Institution of Monarchy is more important to the Bhutanese people than to the Wangchuck Dynasty. Let me cite just one relevant example. Few weeks back I asked of a very prominent politician, “How is Sino-Bhutan Talk going on?” “It is in the safe hands of His Majesty and therefore progressing very well”, was the immediate reply. In fact during the ongoing session of the 2nd Parliament, it was reported that Technical Teams of China and Bhutan had carried out a joint survey at an identified Sino-Bhutan border area. The two political parties may deal with Bhutan’s giant neighbours based on their Party’s political expediency but the King of Bhutan on whose shoulder rests the constitutional responsibility of national security and the ultimate well being of the people cannot compromise the sovereign interests of the Kingdom for money or out of fear. This is why I say that Monarchy is the gravitational force that keeps the nation in its independent orbit.

Now based on my above 3 assumptions that led to the Constitution of Bhutan, I cannot imagine that the King of Bhutan will officially grant assent to an amendment to the National Assembly Act that in effect tantamount to retrospectively censuring the act of resignation from the elected post of MP by the President of DPT which is the present Opposition Party. The Throne is constitutionally placed in neutral political position. It does not mean that the King cannot intervene. He can and he should in matters of national security or ultimate well being of the people. But to condone a deliberate political act of the Ruling Party to censure the President of the political party in Opposition is literally destroying the very foundation of the political system set up under the Constitutional Monarchy Democratic Governance.

Democracy in modern era cannot be bounded by feudalistic limitation. It is ridiculous to convert tenure of an MP to that of a prison term. If an MP cannot have the freedom of expression such as resigning for whatever reasons be it politics, social, economic or simply distaste of the environment, the other lowly citizens really need to be wary of the new political system. Democracy cannot be qualified or limited by money. Election expenditure cannot be an absolute reason to deny basic human right or an expression of democratic freedom. I also feel that people’s trust in an elected MP is overhyped because in Bhutanese Election there is no button in the EVM to reject any or all candidates. In a close community like Bhutan over crowded with political party people, it is very awkward to abstain from voting and once in the voting booth, the person has no other choice then to vote for one of the candidates. So it is possible that the public in general may not be overly concerned if few re-elections are held. And re-elections due to resignations will be really rare because candidates spend more money, time and energy and definitely make more sacrifices than any other to participate in an election. He or she is most unlikely to throw away the fruit of success unless compelled to.

The Election Commission had issued a writ barring elected Tshogpas from resigning based on its argument that re-election was a burden to national resources. Bhutan’s uniqueness lies in its over the barrel dictates such as the writ issued by the Election Commission that subvert the very principle of democracy it is supposed to uphold. That writ was not challenged because the Tshogpas were only fighting for more pay which they did get. However, it does not mean that the writ is legally sound. The authority of the Election Commission covers the period of registration to election result. The authority does not extend beyond election result declaration day. Once a candidate is declared elected, that candidate falls outside the purview of the Election law and will be governed by another constitutional authority or Legislative Act. May be for that reason, the Election Commission did not interfere in the resignation issue of former Prime Minister. It just does not have the mandate outside the election law.

I have had differences with the former Government. I publicly disagreed with the Tobacco Act and termed it ‘draconian’ and questioned the government’s motive in obstructing Bhutan’s membership to WTO.   Much before that I had accused the DPT government of buckling under Indian pressure and withdrawing Bhutanese participation in the Shanghai International Trade Fair. A lot of people may also recall my fight against the former government in regard to the freedom of media. And my view of Pedestrian Day was that it was environmentally sound but socially most insensitive and arbitrary. I made my stands under my own name and never anonymously. When Dragong Mining Case in Haa surfaced in May, 2013, I questioned by then the former Prime Minister about the nightmarish policy of promoting hydropower projects downstream and destroying water catchment areas upstream. But for all my disagreements with the DPT led government, I hold JYT in respectable esteem. And if a section of the people disagreed with his style of functioning, that is an exercise of political freedom and I respect that too. He did not betray or compromise the sovereignty of the Kingdom. And he fulfilled his duty to the royal vision of democratic governance by ensuring that his party took up the Opposition role under a unanimously elected new leader. And only then he submitted his resignation letter 2 days prior to the inaugural ceremony of the 2nd National Assembly. His resignation I feel was beyond his call since it was so publicly and vocally demanded by his supporters. My views on his resignation have been adequately expressed in my article ‘Farewell Democratic Bhutan’s most prominent MP’ at www. The only new thing I need to add here is that I do appreciate that JYT had endeavoured to seek royal clearance prior to his resignation letter to the National Assembly Secretary. So that does put in doubt any suspicion of defiance.  

After listening to part of debates and reading more of the views later in print media, the proposal to amend the resignation clause in the National Assembly Act could be in a way taking politics to brinkmanship. Presently Bhutan has two influential national leaders who are in position to rein in this line of politics. I appeal to Lyonchen Tshering Tobgay the Prime Minister of Bhutan and Lyonpo Sonam Kinga Chairman of National Council to give to the royal envisioned dream a chance to succeed. If they wish it is in their sphere of leadership influence to guide the energy and intellectual capacity of the MPs beyond the shadow of former Prime Minister Jigmi Yoezer Thinley and concentrate on present national affairs rather than engraving ugly epitaph on incidents of yesterdays.

In expressing my thoughts, I only wish the nation well. My positive or negative views cannot make any difference to the standing of any political party or leadership. The intent is only to appeal for happier future if anyone cares to listen.

From the beginning of 2012, I kind of sensed that not everything was well in the Kingdom of Camelot. In early week of August, 2012, somehow, I gathered the courage to submit my thoughts through Bhutan Post to their Majesty the Kings and the Prime Minister. I did pray deeply that my submissions would be graciously viewed. I reproduce herewith a part of the submission which in a way is a window to my inner heart. I have always been truly committed to the Institution of the Monarchy and peace and stability of Bhutan.

Hereunder is the reproduced part of the submission made on 7th August, 2012.

A citizen would like to humbly beg to share few heartfelt thoughts with his most respected and revered God-like His Majesty the King, His Majesty the 4th Druk Gyalpo and the Hon’ble 1st Prime Minister of Constitutional Democratic Kingdom of Bhutan.

Internal Political Impression

Constitutional Democracy is a new experiment for Bhutanese and Bhutan both at national and International level. As such there will always be in existence some doubts, some hesitation and a minor trust deficit between authorities, between people and authorities and between neighbours. However as years go by and the elected governments and the Monarchy Institution interacts in good faith, the misgivings and bottle necks will dissipate.  A national capacity will naturally develop that will absorb changes and channel new stream of democratic thoughts along proven, reliable channels of the past.

Recently, I felt quite disturbed by the intensity of different views in the mass media in regards to the land amendment Bill. I don’t know who really were using the forums: were they civil servants, land commission people, MPs, political groups, simply ordinary Bhutanese out on a political weekend or outsiders out to create a division between the Prime Minister and the King. It is my belief that the Royal Person and the Prime Minister themselves are very much in national unison and the preceding years of developed trust and respect still prevail.

It is in the interest of any ruling political party to preserve the sanctity of the Constitutional Monarchy Institution as much as it is in the interest of the Monarchy Institution to help nurture and protect the sanctity of democratic governance. Bhutan’s strength as a sovereign nation and social stability requires the two main institutions to move in unison in the same direction. We cannot have Thailand type of tug of war because Bhutanese in general do not want it. They revere their Monarch and they want the government to concentrate on economic development and create jobs.  

As years go by, I think the Bhutanese King and Bhutanese Prime Minister (I don’t mean the present), will have no time to think of their individual turfs and prerogatives. The trend of the future is very clear.  Already we have new religious groups and with it will come political groups not based on region or ethnic but on common agenda not necessarily pro national interest.”

In conclusion I wish to state that sometimes it is necessary to set politics aside in the interests of overall national well being. It is unhealthy to play off Prime Minister versus Prime Minister or Prime Minister versus His Majesty the King. Bhutan is a small nation with huge social and economic burdens. We need contribution from the best of our people especially national leaders and above all it is necessary for all Bhutanese to come together to protect and preserve the sanctity of the Institution of Monarchy and therefore avoid  roping in the sacred Institution in the settlement of political vendetta or in pursuit of gaining political mileage. Pelden Drukpa Lha Gyalo!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Bhutanese Economy from a perspective of a layman

The 7% to 8% of growth in Bhutanese economy with, ‘problems that are usually not associated with similar growth in other countries,’ seem to be perplexing the new Prime Minister of Bhutan. He, therefore, maintains that GDP does not reflect true economic status of a nation. Then what really could provide a real economic picture? Is the new Bhutan Government attempting to sell a different economic theory or is it a political ploy to down play the economic growths achieved in the past decades or just the last 5 years?

How many world leaders would take such skepticism seriously? It is a far cry from the philosophy of GNH. The principal layman logic or understanding of GNH is that more money leads to more comfort but not necessarily a happier state of mind and less money leads to more hardships but not necessarily more misery in the state of mind. There are practical lessons, events and experience to support the thinking behind GNH philosophy.

The politicians especially of the Ruling Party must move away from election mode because the Party is now in the driving seat and examining economic intricacies or redefining generally accepted principal cannot bring about substantive value to the tasks ahead.

The world in general trusts GDP to illustrate a realistic economic status of a nation. For example apart from political reasons, financial institutions like World Bank or Asian Development Bank would take GDP of a nation into consideration when approving a loan or appraising economic status of a nation. In Bhutan’s context too, GDP should be the guiding factor to national economic performance status except that we need to comprehend the economic growth pattern in correct perspective given the peculiarity of our situation of having to import almost everything (human resources, materials, fuel and food) from India. There is no doubt that generating more rupee than ngultrum would ideally suit our present situation.

If Bhutanese ngultrum was a hard currency, the 7% to 8 % economic growth would guarantee a financial situation free of foreign currency crisis including that of rupee. And if the skills or temperament of the unemployed youth matched the available jobs, unemployment would not be a big issue. However the ngultrum is not a hard currency and youths cannot match the jobs created. So Bhutan is in a very strange paradox of a situation. The Ngultrum economy is doing alright but there is foreign currency crisis including that of rupee. There are huge expatriate workers and yet the country’s youth remain unemployed. The reasons are clear and many fold but solutions are rather scarce and there is a crisis of bankruptcy in the department for bold and out of box initiatives. It’s a challenge for any Party that takes the reign in governance.

Thanks to the 5 year planned development activities since 1960s, the Nation on the whole has really prospered. Bhutanese have built new homes in urban centers and village houses are left unattended. There are more cars and more opportunities. There are now many children who study outside the country some funded by the government and many more family funded. There is also an abundance of ngultrum supplies outside the regular financial institutions. For examples IPOs (shares of company being floated to the public) are snapped up and always oversubscribed 3 or 4 times over.

The national economy has seen good growth spurred on by investments in mega-projects especially of power and cement. Presently there is a rupee crisis because export has not grown at par with other aspects of the economy. However, once the power and cement projects come into production streamlines, these export oriented investments will bring in the much desired supply of rupees. Bhutan is undergoing a current account deficit in that we do not have sufficient foreign currencies including rupees to pay for all the imports a larger portion of which is used for ongoing investments or to meet large consumer appetites created by ngultrum income derived from the mega project related activities. A builder needs to wait 20 year to keep the total rent of a building for himself and likewise Bhutan needs to await a maximum of another 7 years to acquire a comfortable rupee stock. Neither the builder nor the nation is facing bankruptcy. It’s just the process of travelling through the accepted economic path of utilizing funds from other resources to leverage oneself to a position of greater economic self sufficiency in the near future.

At this critical juncture, it is necessary for Bhutan to develop national stamina both in political will and in resourcefulness to digest the incubation period that is a necessary inconvenience for long term investments in export oriented industries like hydropower projects or Nganglam cement plant of Bhutan.

Why don’t the banks have money to lend?

Not long ago prior to 2001, Bhutanese banks had cash surplus because the market for investment was limited. Today the pooled resources of 8 financial institutions cannot meet the demands for loans. Bhutanese economy has overgrown the institutional money supply side.

The banks in the past did not encourage people to bank their money. The interest on long term deposits was far below the inflationary line so people were encouraged to spent rather than save. This is also the reason why there is ngultrum money in the country but not with the bank. Recently the Banks have attuned their business outlook to attract idle money by increasing interests on long term deposits. But banks are very much in the mercenary mood in that they will increase say the interest on long term deposit by 1 % and then they increase lending interest rate by 2 %. This mercenary trend is very short sighted. Banks need to aim for more sound financial vision by going for volume business. There is a need to attract more idle money with better interest rates and at the same time maintain lending rate to a reasonably profitable level through increased loan volumes. RMA also needs to instill depositor confidence in banks by providing a guarantee for deposits kept with any Bank in Bhutan. Such a guarantee should not cost RMA any money if it is confident about its supervision of prudential guidelines under which financial institutions have to operate their business. Prudential guidelines are meant to prevent bankruptcy of banks.

In conclusion, I fully acknowledge the expertise and knowledge of financial experts, economists, bankers etc. This article is only expressing a layman’s take on the economy to share with other lay people and in the process invite their views on the economy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Thoughts on Syrian conflict and the challenges of Fukushima radioactive leaks

Syria and Ray of Peace

Russia and America have agreed upon a plan to resolve the Syrian conflict in a more acceptable passive manner. There will be no American invasion of Syria and threat of chemical warfare especially against Israel has been taken care of. The Syrian chemical stock is to be surrendered to an international authority, to be removed or destroyed. And Russia and America have agreed to an engagement to bring about an end to the civil war in Syria. All peace loving people and forces must applaud the two Presidents Putin and Obama for putting aside their personal and national egos and for their comprehension of economic and political realities of the world.

The recent Syrian event demonstrated the changing scenarios of the world.

1. The autocratic oil rich kingdoms of the Middle East especially Saudi Arabia are willing to fund an American invasion of Syria to remove Assad. The invasion money comes from oil and therefore oil prices would have drastically shot up. Presently petrol per litre is around Nu: 72 in Bhutan with the most recent increase. If Syria had been invaded it could have touched Nu: 90 per litre before December end.

2.  After the Tony Blair and Bush deception about Iraq war, the British people are no longer blind followers of American foreign policy of unilateral aggression. And France the only economically troubled Security Council member is all out for a war it does not have to foot the bill but opens a wide export market for her armament industries.

3. The old white American Senators of both Parties who have deep entrenched ties with American Corporations especially those war related industries are hungering for another war. Senator John McCain the rejected former Republican Presidential candidate spear heads this group. Fortunately they are outnumbered by more reasonable American Congressmen. The majority of voters who backed Obama presidency terms do not want America to wage another war. However, if President Obama had really wanted, he could have invaded Syria. The American public would have fallen behind their President because Americans have a deep sense of nationalism once a state of war is declared.

4. The invasion did not happen mainly for 2 reasons:

I) Obama rattled the saber to appease the powerful Jewish lobby of Israel in Washington and the pressures from Arab Allies in Middle East but deep down as a person, he is a man of peace who had committed himself to earn the laurels of the Nobel Peace Prize given to him even before he ever made any peace.

II) Russia is no longer a Super Power but it is still a game changer. And when the Russian stand is fully backed by China, the consequences of an effective missile strike to topple Assad changes dramatically. Assad may have retaliated with chemical attacks on Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia or he could have been killed in the first missile attack by America or Israel.  However, Syrian war would have continued. Russians have been defeated in battles but have not lost a war they had badly needed to win. And this time Russia had the economic might of China to call upon much needed resources to fund the war against America and her rich Arab Allies.

5. Syria is not just Assad. It is in a way the last bastion of Russian influence in Middle East and the three Seas. So stakes are far higher and more dangerous than American war-hawkers or Middle East Arab kings have envisioned. Any final American strategic move to completely monopolize the three Seas (Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and Arabian Sea) will be out rightly challenged by Russia and China, the two non-western powers that complete the five permanent members of the Security Council of United Nations. It’s just not a question of regional influence.  It is the crux of national survival for both China and Russia and their Allies in the world. Therefore Saudi Arabia and Israel need to be realistic when calling upon Washington to do away with the Syrian Regime because changes may also result in their own sovereignties. And moreover the aftermath of removing Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi have not reduced the insecurities of Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Japan finally opens Fukushima to outside expertise

This is a follow up to my thoughts on ‘The troubled waters of Fukushima’. The most recent decision of Japan to seek outside wisdom to tackle Fukushima radioactive issue is a responsible and welcome approach. However Japan should not restrict itself to only American advice.

Fukushima’s three nuclear reactor meltdown may not be comparable to Chernobyl disaster that humbled the Soviet Union. But neither is Japan as resource rich, powerful and big as was Soviet Union. Japan must face the realities and share its concerns with the people of Japan and the world. It needs to be mentally and nationally prepared for an honest approach to overcome or at the least contain the Fukushima radioactive leaks. The challenge is becoming bigger day by day and it is impossible to sweep away an impending disaster with silent national hara-kiri.

Japan need to harness the best nuclear brains available within and outside the country to find effective measures to combat the radioactive leaks. A must Japanese success in this endeavor would be a great cause of celebration for Japan, the world at large, the ecosystem and the world economy. Japan faces a herculean Fukushima task but the people of Japan have a history of Olympian determination. Go head Japan and good luck! Tame the Fukushima misfortune and prepare for Tokyo 32nd Olympia 2020. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

So, How Fares the Bhutan Parliament?

The first session of the 2nd Parliament of the Kingdom of Bhutan began yesterday which was Wednesday, 11th September, 2013. The Parliament of Bhutan constitutes of 3 entities: His Majesty the King, the National Assembly and the National Council. However, in terms of royal position and due deference, the King is actually the crown of the Parliament. His Majesty is received in traditional procession ceremony and formally welcomed by the Speaker of the Parliament. After that the leader of the Ruling Party cum Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Chairman of the National Council offers to the King, the People and the Nation their heartfelt submissions of tributes, hopes, fears and grievances if any.

His Majesty the King graced the occasion but did not address the Parliament. However, both the Speaker and the Prime Minister recalled parts of the royal thoughts on the 2nd Parliament that was expressed some time back to an audience consisting of newly confirmed cabinet members and PDP Party MP Elects in the Throne room. The event was later telecast by BBS TV as part of news broadcast. Such royal thoughts cannot be strictly construed as a substitute for a formal address to the 2nd Parliament unless we contemplate a Parliament without an Opposition Party and National Council.

His Majesty also graced the live telecast opening session of National Council in the afternoon of 11th September, 2013 and chose to address the House as well as the Nation. He called upon Bhutanese of all walks of life to endeavour to handover a better positioned Bhutan to their next generation. I felt it was a clear royal call to all Bhutanese to strengthen the sovereignty of Bhutan through everyday efforts of framing policies, executing development activities, legislating laws, promoting national aspirations through cohesive social harmony and economic resources usage, etc..

The Speaker gave a forward marching address. It looks like he is determined to play a non-partisan dignified role as the Speaker of the 2nd Parliament. And the Prime Minster also spoke as Head of the Bhutanese Government, not on Party lines. I, however, differ with his summation to the effect that the successful process of 2nd Parliamentary Elections have convinced political experts that democracy has taken firm root in Bhutan.

The General Election part of the 2nd Parliamentary process was successful only in the sense that a conclusion to winners and losers among 94 candidates were declared by Election Commission. And 47 secured Parliamentary employment for 5 years. In general, the General Election was distasteful and Bhutanese from the highest peak to the lowest bottom of the well lost out. Bhutan and Bhutanese cannot deem success in a situation where one political force called upon the nation to submit to India because Bhutan is totally dependent on India for economic survival and the other political force faulting the result of the election to action or non-action of the Throne or Throne affiliated Agencies.  I do not think that it is necessary for Bhutan to develop a façade of democratic system to enslave the nation to the dictate of powerful India or defile the Institution of Monarchy which for over 100 years, served as the gravitational force that held Bhutan to its independent orbit among the nations of the world. Apart from this one small but definitive disagreement, I applaud the Prime Minister for his keenness to look forward.

The Opposition Leader’s address sounded quite heavy and my take was different from Kuensel’s conclusion of ‘seeking forgiveness and conciliatory’. It was definitely not a provocative call nor was it seeking forgiveness. In fact as thankful as I am to Kuensel for always providing more details and information, I really wish it is possible to review the texts of the addresses delivered by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader just as that of the Speaker and the Chairman of NC. The National Assembly website had only the Speaker’s address, the Cabinet Secretariat website was blank and so were the websites of PDP and DPT. And whilst DPT office did not answer the phone, PDP said it did not have a copy of PM’s address. Without a secondary chance to review the text in full, I had to rely on what I could recollect from the replay of event at BBS Channel 2. I felt that Lyonpo Pema Gyamtso outlined DPT forward stand and also called for sanitization of election process to strengthen democracy.

The Chairman of National Council illustrated the pivotal and enduring role of the Institution of the Bhutanese Monarchy. He pointed out the transitory roles of parliamentarians and political parties and that the real national and most reliable force of national unity was represented by the royal person. I feel that it is a fact of Bhutanese sovereignty that even in the era of democracy, the role and responsibility of the Monarch has increased. The King of the Kingdom of Bhutan is a neutral authority in Bhutanese politics and yet cannot remain passive to political changes and trends because the people in general look up to the throne for guidance.

All in all, the Opening Sessions of the Parliament and the National Council were dignifying and successful.

Food for Parliamentary thoughts

Development grants from India

The total outlay of 11th Five year plan is Nu. 213 B. Out of this, India has agreed to fund 45 B rupees. In addition the present government asked for 5 B rupees as Stimulus fund which partly comprise of handouts committed to during General Election such as old age benefits etc. In the first 5 year democracy, the government asked for 6 B rupees in addition to the initial 28 B grant earmarked from India as part of total 10th Plan outlay of Nu. 148 B. So India’s committed grant for 10th Plan was 34 B and for 11th Plan is 50 B Rupees.

Out of the 34 B, India is yet to release 4 B even though Bhutan has already invested over 2 ½ B from its own resources and struggling to raise further funds to complete the 4 B development activities part of which has spilled over into the 11th Plan period. The delay in the release of committed 4 B rupees is aggravating the rupee crisis that is plaguing the Bhutanese economy.

Since there is considerable delay in releasing the balance 4B Rupee out of the 34B grant committed for the 10th Plan, it is possible that there will be a ripple effect delays in releasing the grants for the 11th Plan which began from 1st July, 2013. India is also facing economic crisis of its own. Such constrains faced in grant releases need to be taken as national reminders that Bhutan must not lose sight of self-reliance as we travel the next five year journey. I suppose the Parliamentarians would be relieved to know of India’s generous commitment for the 11th Plan and at the same time remain conscious of guiding the nation towards more revenue generating policies.

What tantamount to mutual Security Interests?

Bhutan is deeply dependent on Indian assistance. A major part of our development fund is provided by India. Our Army is fully funded by India. Even then can we say that India and Bhutan has mutual national security interests? I refer to Kuensel issue of 3rd September, 2013 regarding understandings reached between India and Bhutan recently at New Delhi to quote, “The two sides reaffirmed the trust and confidence between the two countries and their mutual security interests”.

I thought over this claim but somehow it is difficult to really fathom the wisdom of mutual national security interests either with India or China. Bhutan shares international boundary with both India and China. Therefore if there is a security threat to the Kingdom of Bhutan, it has to originate from one of the giant neighbours. Therefore how could Bhutan have mutual security interests with either neighbours who are the only possible source of direct national security threat to Bhutan?

On the other hand, are we talking of a new understanding with India i.e. a Security Pact like NATO countries or an Indian Security Umbrella for Bhutan like USA for South Korea, Japan, Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, Israel etc.. I feel that teaming up with India or China for national mutual security interests is altogether a different proposition from having bilateral diplomatic ties, trade and close dependent economic ties with India or later some limited peaceful ties with China.

Both Security Pact and Security Umbrella would be a road to doom for Bhutan. Such an understanding would unnecessarily make Bhutan a part of China-India possible border confrontation. In terms of Bhutan’s sovereign security, Bhutan cannot afford to have mutual security interests with any country especially China and India who are immediate neighbours and has a history of animosity towards each other.

At one time there was a belief that if China invaded Bhutan, India would come to Bhutan’s rescue. But now we have to be more realistic. The days of blatant invasion are over. Even the super power America is reworking its intention to conduct a surgical strike against Syria. China will not invade Bhutan and if it does, all India can do is attempt to quickly occupy Southern Eastern territory of Bhutan which is more accessible to India than China. So Bhutan has nothing to gain and everything to lose in forming a Security Pact.

So if Bhutan adopts the present trend of publicly expressing its need to have mutual national security interests with India then such a stand could be interpreted as Bhutan siding with India in the China-India border disputes. Such a mis-step will not do much good for India because Bhutan is in no position to shift regional power balance and on the other hand would place Bhutan’s sovereignty in grave danger. Bhutan does not pose any threat to China or India and therefore it is important to maintain the past state of benign neutrality instead of declaring or choosing sides for security reasons.

In matters of national security for a small nation, the most advisable course is first have a distinct demarcated international boundary and after that tread gradually to develop peaceful and mutually beneficial ties. Presently Bhutan has international border issues with both China and India. Indo-Bhutan relationship is very sound and strong. And there is a need to dispel mistrust with China.  Bhutan has never tried to play off China India card. It never made sense and it can never work. The mutual national security interests of Bhutan, China and India is to respect each other’s right to peaceful co-existence as independent sovereign nations and develop peaceful socio-economic relationship.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The imminent missile invasion of Syria

The President of America is paving way to attack Syria without UN approval by clearing his action with Congress. In this way he hopes to have the backing of the American people if not that of the world at large. Britain the usual permanent partner of United States backed out whilst French President Hollande has staunchly stepped forward. Besides other official reasons, Mr. Hollande must have good American memory of the New York scandal of former Chairman of IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn that removed him from French Presidential election.

It is said that Israeli intelligence gathered the evidence that it was Assad Government who used chemical weapon. However, it is also not beyond the realm of possibility that Israel could also have arranged for such an incident to discredit an arch enemy.  Chemical weapon is an indiscriminate mass killer but is it a weapon of mass destruction like nuclear weapon that destroys both life and infrastructures? On the other hand the carpet bombings of Iraq carried out by United States in the past killed and destroyed indiscriminately and yet it is not considered as mass destruction. So the world does lack a standardized uniform description of what constitutes weapon of mass destruction. And therefore, it is up to the powerful nations backed by even more powerful nationally prejudiced media, to determine and define weapon of mass destruction that suit the occasion.

The Middle East conflagration is somehow or the other triggered by oil and fear of common Muslim people. The Kings and Emirs are afraid of their commoners and Israel fears the Muslim mass. And it suits American policies to capitalize on such entrenched fears and render support.

The opposition to American invasion by the world at large seems to be impacting Obama’s confidence. Whilst justifying his stand during his stop over visit to Sweden, the beleaguered USA President, for a brief moment, forgot that to the world at large he represented America. He blurted out that, “My credibility is not on the line. The credibility of the world, America and Congress is on the line”.

I delve into this precarious international issue for sake of exercising the mind and at the same time to express that war especially aggression is distasteful. It is also gratifying that the larger section of the world society is wary of waging senseless wars although one deterrent factor is the possibility of increase in crude oil prices if Syria war spreads to other Middle East countries. The President of America may still carry out air destruction of Syrian military installations as this will ensure Israel’s security no matter how the war in Syria turns out. It is heartening that during the G-20 Summit, majority of the members stood up against American goal to invade Syria. President Putin of Russia explained that if Syria is attacked then the smaller nations in the world would have to always live in fear of more powerful nations. Bhutan may never be directly affected except that prices of petroleum products would increase if the Middle East turmoil expands. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The troubled waters of Fukushima, Japan

The north western Pacific coast of Japan was subjected to double natural catastrophes of a major earthquake which also triggered gigantic Tsunami in March, 2011. In terms of lives lost and properties and infrastructures destroyed, it was the worst national disaster since World War II atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima by America. However, this time the great nation of Japan and her heroic people rose gallantly to the challenges of epic proportion and somehow have dealt in the best possible way the aftermath damages and wounds of the tragic chaos.

It was, therefore, very saddening to recently come across news headlines, ‘Radiation level spikes at Fukushima’. Japan has been grappling with the consequences of the 3 damaged reactors at Fukushima Nuclear Plant since that fateful day and so far has not been successful in finding a permanent solution to deal with the resultant radioactive water. It is not that Japan does not have the national will or fiscal resources to tackle the task but it seems this melt down of a nuclear reactor is an immense problem that needs accumulative minds of all nuclear experts and agencies of the world. As a lifelong admirer and sincere well-wisher of Japan, I wish to humbly offer two prayers:

1. I pray that Japan overcome her engrained national reluctance to share her problem and seek out possible ways and means to overcome the radiation danger.
2. I reproduce herein a part of Sampa Lhundrup prayer that is appropriate to the task ahead, from a collection of Essential Prayers by Shechen Publications, New Delhi.

Original version:

ས་ཆུ་མེ་རླུང་འབྱུང་བའི་བར་ཆད་ཀྱིས༔         སྒྱུ་ལུས་གཡར་པོ་འཇིག་ལ་ཐུག་པའི་ཚེ༔         ཡིད་གཉིས་ཐེ་ཚོམ་མེད་པར་གསོལ་བ་འདེབས༔ ཨོ་རྒྱན་འབྱུང་བ་བཞི་ཡི་ལྷ་མོར་བཅས༔            འབྱུང་བ་རང་སར་ཞི་བར་ཐེ་ཚོམ་མེད༔         ཨོ་རྒྱན་པདྨ་འབྱུང་གནས་ལ་གསོལ་བ་འདེབས༔ བསམ་པ་ལྷུན་གྱིས་འགྲུབ་པར་བྱིན་གྱིས་རློབས༔

English Translation: 
When through obstacles caused by the elements of earth, water, fire and wind
This illusory body suffers and risks destruction, If we pray unhesitatingly with single minded intensity, The Uddiyana Guru, with Goddesses of the four elements, Will surely pacify the elements, restoring them to equilibrium. We pray to you lotus born, Guru of Uddiyana,
Through your blessings may all wishes be spontaneously fulfilled!

Technically and financially, it is easily possible for Japan and so, if appropriate culturally, a statue of Guru Rinpoche and goddesses of the four elements could be installed facing the Pacific Ocean at the north western coast of Japan.

With my gratitude and respect for the immense goodwill of the People and Government of Japan for Bhutan and Bhutanese. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A heart wrenching RBA and national tragedy in Haa

It is so sad. A very unfortunate incident cost lives in the most devastating manner. The way the accident happened, it is very possible that few of the 11 bereaved families may not even have the consolation of seeing the intact bodies of their beloved ones to grief over. I grieve for the victims, their families and the loss to Royal Bhutan Army and to the Nation.

Such horrible incident would naturally lead to official investigation. I hope the purpose would be to prevent future mishaps rather than to seek out who to blame and how to punish. The soldiers and the RBA Institution have suffered deeply and so everyone needs to be more understanding. Please refrain from official reactions that inadvertently extend further the national sorrow and tragedy already inflicted upon the Kingdom and the people. In military works what seems to be ‘unnecessary’ loss of life have happened before and unfortunately will take place in future in every Army not just that of Bhutan. So when something as tragic as this happens, our grief will be deep but our reaction must be tampered.  Let us pray for recovery of those injured and assemble on 7th September at Thimphu crematorium to pay respect to the brave soldiers and for those who can financially afford to also condole the bereaved families in the most proper traditional ways.

It is always a huge consolation to all Bhutanese when our King and the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Forces instantly takes charge in person at such critical times. Thank You, Your Majesty and I am so sorry for the personal hurt to Your Majesty. Regardless of how the accident happened, as a Buddhist, I take it as a national ‘Barkem’ and so with the ultimate sacrifice made by our brave soldiers; I hope a more grievous danger to the nation has been averted. It is my hope that the nation and the RBA high command will undertake to perform appropriate Rimdos with the help of the Dratsang. May the souls of the soldiers rest in peace. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

An adjective called ‘Special’

By now it is high time that most people of Bhutan understood what the adjective, ‘Special’ annotates when it is used in describing Indo - Bhutan status. It signifies superior - subordinate as in hierarchy; indispensable – over dependent relation as in light and darkness; Lord and Butler as in social status and finally a role of pampered and gilded northern sentry who keeps guard against China for master commander India as in guard dog parlance.

That’s why the leaders of India and Bhutan preferred this adjective because no other words can accurately describe the gradient of the Indo-Bhutan relationship wherein India so fully jockeys Bhutan’s fragile existence. In the prevailing political venture, reality cannot be amended but maybe majority of Bhutanese officials could learn to utter few Indo –Bhutan sentences free of the insulting and subjugating adjective ‘special ’.

Bhutan is few days away from bountiful, Rs. 50 Billion for 5 years. That is Rs. 10 Billion a year. Maybe it is possible to reap even more bountiful harvest of Rs. 50 Billion a year if Chomolhari transforms to Indo-Bhutan Special ! By the way this expression of thought has no relevance to the Bhutanese Prime Minister’s visit to India. It is a food for thought to those of us who feel that for abundant Rupees, Bhutan should endlessly submit to India.  

As for Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay’s visit, I have no doubt that he will get the target of Rs. 45 Billion plus 5 Billion and very possibly will put the same in good use. As a Haap, I don’t expect much because by now Haaps are used to being left in the void by their past Lyonpos. But on the basis of one to one talk, somehow, I got the feeling he aims to trek a different path. When it comes to serving Bhutan, I suppose, he too will travel the same dedicated path as that of other Lyonpos from Haa.

Here I wish to deviate from my normal code of conduct. I do not usually quote one to one talk but I am doing so because I feel it is vital to record historical or history making event.

‘Do you feel I could betray my Country? “He remarked (not asked)”. “No, I do not feel that any Bhutanese leader will betray Bhutan, at least not by intent,” I responded.

His Excellency said, “I am an ordinary man”.  “No, you are a Lungtenchen” I corrected. I knew MP Tshering Tobgay from Haa was a man of destiny when fate somersaulted him to Opposition Leader seat in 2008. Even then, I was astounded, when after Nyamrup’s exit, all the anti DPT forces in Bhutan piled up behind Tshering Tobgay’s Party. Even an outright intervention by India into the General Election of Bhutan was ( ominous ? ) embraced by Bhutanese who otherwise would be prepared to give their lives to defend the Sovereignty of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

It is an indisputable fact that he created substantial anti-incumbency emotions during the 5 years Opposition leadership and his supposed inconsequential acts of adorning white scarf and surrendering a 5 year old duty vehicle created mass public fever.  In the most crucial primary election, the anti –incumbency emotion he had nurtured and the two almost insignificant acts vanquished Nyamrup Party from the 2nd party competition. Otherwise Tshering Tobgay would have been history of the past because he himself would not have joined Nyamrup in any secondary position. Haaps possess such incomprehensible sense of dignity or ego as some would term that often baffles outsiders and brings no tangible benefit to the Haap person. And now he is in the making of future history.

In 2012, I wrote to the Opposition Leader to graduate to national leadership role. I felt he had to move beyond being a successful Opposition Leader. My blunt statements are actually quite prophetic but many dislike hearing them. Anyway general election saw so many internal and external forces working overtime to install the man of destiny in the seat of premiership. Even DPT flipped and flopped thus aiding to the process.

In retrospect, no one can doubt he is a man of destiny. My fateful anxiety is for Bhutan’s destiny. Is the Kingdom of Bhutan destined to be for the foresee-able future a nation unto itself? Not by intent, but in the heat of competition, self preservation or diehard approach to win or destroy, could Bhutanese jeopardize Bhutan’s sovereignty? I pray that it never happens. Palden Drukpa Lha Gyalo!