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.