Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bhutan at cross-roads? The 8th personal perspectives

This Kingdom has leaped into the 21st century at a galloping speed. It really began with His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck ascending the Dragon Throne as the 3rd hereditary king of Bhutan. From 1952 to 1972 in a period of 20 years, His Majesty transformed cow-herders to national administrators, pony trails to national motor highways, serfs to responsible equal citizens, trail blazed national health services, education and agro developments. The King instituted people governance through establishment of National Assembly, Royal Advisory Council and enabled orderly social and political functioning through framing the 1st national foundation of Law ‘Thrimshhung Chhenpo’ and laid down the Judiciary system. Under his kingship, Bhutan entered the world stage. Bhutan was the 1st nation to recognize Bangladesh as an independent nation and this independent sovereignty exercise was topped with Bhutan becoming a member of United Nations.

It’s now 52 years since the untimely end of the 3rd reign and Bhutan has moved to another era. 2014 is the 7th year of what is called constitutional Democracy under constitutional Monarch. And Bhutan has its 2nd elected government nearing its 1st infancy year. The 34 years of Happiness Reign of His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuk has gone by and this is the 8th year of the reign of the 5th King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. This is supposed to be the promising era of the Bhutanese people with their people king.

However under democracy, events have moved to a speed that may finally have the nation gallop away from the historic dream of the past. Where we are and what plan are we following? Let us look at 2 main features of national policies under democracy: (1) The development of hydro-resources and (2) management of external affairs.

1.       Hydro projects

Chukha was long ago but Kurichu and Tala should still be fresh in mind of projects executed before 2008. The project funding was 60% grant and 40% loan.

Since 2008, all projects are 30% grant and 70% loan. That’s what Democracy brought us: More loans and less negotiation pride. Still it was not a total give away of national interest. Bhutan had some say in the matter of identifying hydro projects. Now we have had to surrender this. The Amochu hydro project is scrapped. Apparently India thinks Amochu hydro project is a security risk. Is it possible for China to use the Amochu water reservoir lake as an amphibious landing air field?  Or do we fear that the Amochu River that flows down from China Tibet to Bhutan will carry Chinese influence to Southern Bhutan.

2.       External Relationship

The most controversial issue was former Prime Minister of democratic Bhutan meeting Chinese Premier in a faraway place in South America in an international setting. A year later it became a huge election campaign issue. In an election many issues are raised and even more promises are made. That is the name of the democratic process. Any dismay if felt is erased away or simmers down once the election fever or furor ends.

However the China domino is now strangling Bhutan. It has resulted in the new Bhutanese Government having to declare a freeze in foreign relation development. Imagine a member of UN freezing itself to isolation in this modern era! The present outgoing Indian Government is against Bhutan having friendlier relation with China. And now Bhutan cannot go through its own officially declared intention to have Japan establish her embassy in Thimphu. It is also not possible to have EU open its office in Thimphu. This diplomacy freeze is the only way to explain to China the Bhutanese inability to further progressive talks in Sino- Bhutan affairs.

Bhutan’s so called corner-stone foreign policy is to maintain and protect closer ties with India. The Kingdom has been provided with comprehensive assistance from India during all its 5 year Plans including the ongoing 11th 5 year Plan. Indian Military and Para-military forces have their bases in Bhutan since 1960 and in some ways both internal and external doings of Bhutan have been directly or indirectly influenced or affected by India.

Now this helicopter promise of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) during the Election Campaign might provide a dangerous avenue for Indian Air Force to have its bases in Bhutan. If this happens then it is goodbye to Bhutanese Bhutan.

I think PDP meant well when it promised 2 helicopters and 205 Boleros for 205 geogs and power tillers for some 1500 Chiwogs of Bhutan. But economic situation of the nation is such that good intentions may need to be put on hold for the foreseeable future. The people must be more patient and understanding. The nation may not be able to afford the consequences of some election promises of any political party whether PDP, DPT or others that may follow them to power.

During the constitution draft consultation, I recall HRH Trongsa Penlop reminding the nation of those days during 1970s when Bhutan’s position was like a leaf tossing on a swollen monsoon river. Today under democracy, the kingdom has been placed at a pivotal cross road. Bhutan needs courageous visionary leadership. Should Bhutan plunge into a path of safe and secure status quo in the womb of India or steer gradually to a more risky but a dignified sovereign friendly relationship with India and also other international communities including the northern giant neighbor China? The call cannot lie with two hopelessly feuding political parties or the uninformed Bhutanese at large. With deep prayers and folded hands I submit that it has to be the call of the King of Bhutan His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk.

The institution of Bhutanese Monarchy is indispensable and irreplaceable for the foreseeable future of Bhutan. Without the unifying force and guiding light of the monarch, the nation will not find peace and hope. The constitution maybe the butter lamp but its flame is still very much the royal institution. The general populace are not in position to comprehend international and regional political implications and the new political upstart leaders are more into party or personal ego conflicts than that of national wellbeing. So as undemocratic as it may seem yet for the sake of a sovereign national present and future status, it is only the king who can meet the challenges of whether only India and China interest or disinterest should govern Bhutan; whether Amochu hydro project is a national security threat, whether the PDP Government provides bases to Indian Air Force so that PDP can fulfill its campaign promise of helicopter service.

Who can really say for sure what kind of leadership Bhutan has in His Majesty the 5th King. For some, he may seem young, for some he may seem gregarious, for some he is physically attractive and eloquently captivating etc. The fact is his royal father had determined 8 years ago that he was ready to lead the Kingdom. If genes determine leadership qualities then His Majesty has in his royal veins the blood of both Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal the unifier of Bhutan and the blood of the Wangchuck dynasty that has been at the helm of national journey for over 100 years. It is not easy for a tiny nation with very limited both material and human resources to exert its stand and even the best of leaders would need time and caution to pave a safe path. What is relevant is that the King is the most informed Bhutanese in terms of historical facts of the past, the bilateral, regional and international forces and equations and most importantly the aspiration of the diverse Bhutanese populace.

I may be the only Bhutanese penning direct thoughts publicly but there would be many who would be having varying degrees of anxieties or applause for the direction we are travelling and yet refrain from sharing out their thoughts. I write because I have deep faith in the goodness of the nation and the depth and quality of its ultimate leadership. Also at times it is necessary to let outsiders understand that a common Bhutanese maybe helpless but it does not mean a common Bhutanese has stopped caring.

Pelden Drukpa Lhagyel lo!                                                                  


  1. India may be the cornerstone of our foreign policy but we need other things like beams and pillars also to keep the house from falling. Therefore, besides India, we must expand and strengthen relations with as many countries as possible.

  2. I understand that India is allergic to China. And hence the reason India does not want Bhutan to have any contact with China. But I am surprise India also does not want Bhutan to have relations with Japan and EU. This doesn't make any sense. Can anyone shed some light on this?

  3. Uncle Wangcha, I use to follow your article, but this article on education city is the lousiest one I read so far. World is not just about politics. Simply because you know international politics doesn't mean everything has to be looked from political window. Don't go crazy now by comparing 1000 acres of land on that barren hill with Hongkong and Macau. I wish if you have studied bit of economics. I doubt if you have understood the objective and operational modality of education city itself. Besides, geo-politics, I wish you know how rich Hongkong (financial hub of Asia) and Macau has become due to foreign direct investment. Leasing land for 99 years to foreign investor is nothing unusual in today's open economy if you want to see new height of economic prosperity. For you, there is no worry about economic prosperity because, anyway, you have the luxury of owning that river side villa, but for general Bhutanese we want our nation to accumulate wealth and prosper to see everyone doing well economically, not just you or few others.