Sharing of Stories by Dago Tshering
The Story of Druk Yule and the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
On the 60th Birth Anniversary celebration of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, I am sharing five pertinent episodes which I observed from 1961 onwards as a civil servant, diplomat and minister in the service of the Royal Government. I finally retired in early 2009 as Ambassador to India.
Conservation of Environment
The First Five Year Plan was launched in 1961 at Paro with Rs. 170 million budget assistance from India. It was the year I joined the Office of the Development Wing. As I look back there is much to reminisce. Bhutan is well endowed with rich forest, flora and fauna. Exploitation of the forest was in progress particularly in the southern part of the country. There were big sawmills set up in Galegphu, Phuntsholing and Samdrup Jongkhar. Certain forested areas close to the Indian border were being earmarked and allotted for forest thinning reportedly in accordance with the principles of silviculture. In the absence of any other exportable items then forest was a high revenue earner apart from postal stamps. Some private allottees sub- contracted to people from across the border and even over exploited. Bhutan was branded as blue- pine capitalism. Indeed much of the forests in the southern border areas were denuded from Dagapela ,Galephu, Bakulay, Samrang to khirkhiria of Daifam. All these sale of timber took place in the sixties. Our then Crown Prince still in his teens used to visit the places on various trips and must have observed the wanton thinning activities leaving behind stripped forest and migrant settlements then called “Tangya labourers”
On ascending the golden Throne, the very first Royal edict was to dislodge all saw mills out of the forest to the chagrin of the saw- millers and timber exporters. They now look back and comment what a far sighted Edict of the then young King of 17 years. It was followed by the National Forest Policy of 1974. and establishment of National Parks which now covers 54% of the forest., forest thinking activities were carried out most cautiously. Bhutan thus, has been able to conserve 72% forest coverage with rich flora and fauna which enriches. the pristine environment. Bhutan is now Carbon neutral and entering into carbon Credit Trading. Yes, we owe much to His Majesty for the present pristine environment of Bhutan.
Thus, In 2005 UNEP awarded Champions of the Earth to His Majesty and the people of Bhutan.
In 2011 inducted in Kyoto Hall of Fame for His Majesty’s contribution to the conservation of Environment.
Goss National Happiness (GNH)
On the demise of the Third Druk Gyalpo in 1972 in Nairobi, Kenya, the then Crown Prince, Jigme Singye Wangchuk ascended the Golden Throne of Druk Yule. After the Coronation in 1974 sometime in 1975 journalists quizzed His Majesty on the Socio- Economic development programs in the Kingdom. After some exchanges with them His Majesty asserted, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.”. This was later adopted as the guiding principle of development in the country and later the Planning Commission also came to be called Gross National Commission. It has four components; Balanced and sustainable socio-economic development, conservation of environment, promotion of tradition and culture, and good governance. GNH is a unique development concept of Bhutan and all socio-economic development programs were geared towards delivering the services to the people in the rural areas as 75% of our people live in the rural villages.
I recall, as a member of the Planning Commission we received a Royal Edict in September 1986 outlining the concept for guiding the preparation of the 6th Five Year Plan and inter alia it stated, “We should endeavor to work harder for the public welfare and the development activities should be distributed according to the needs of all the villages “
The Royal Edict in essence fully outlined the basis of the four pillars of the Gross National Happiness. Indeed, delivery of the essential services to the people through decentralization and empowerment of the people received priority. Much could have been achieved had it not been impeded by the challenges posed by the Ngolop activities and ULFA, Bodo problems Yet Bhutan continued to march towards achieving self-sufficiency and sustainable development. Even the United Nations General assembly adopted a Resolution titled Happiness: Towards a holistic approach to development in 2011. United Nations also declared March 20th International Day of Happiness.
The Security of Druk Yule
The years 1987 to 2003 has been a very difficult period in the history of Druk Yule owing to Ngolop activities to destabilize the country incited by the migrant workers. As the Home Minister then I know the serious implications of the situation on the stability and future of the country as a nation. Yet the instruction was to defuse and resolve the problem in a most compassionate and peaceful manner so that the genuine citizens of the country do not suffer as a consequence. I know of repeated instructions to the security forces not to resort to shooting and if need be only to fire in the air.
Owing to Operation Rhino in the Indian state of Assam in 1991 the illegal presence of the Assamese militants of ULFA and Bodo (NDFB, BLF) strayed into our territory when the security forces of India were in hot pursuit. Over the years much discussions have been undertaken to persuade the militants to vacate our territory peacefully but they spurned the offer and some even reportedly said that they would leave Bhutan when they gain independence.
His Majesty in 2001 on the occasion of National Day at Wangduephodrang described the situation, “All our people are aware that, our country is facing its biggest security threat today from the presence of armed militants from Assam who have entered Bhutanese territory and have refused to leave. I would like to inform you that in June this year the Royal Government held talks with the ULFA leaders and and an agreement was signed in which the ULFA has given its commitment to close down four of their camps in accordance with the Agreement, The. Royal Government will continue to make every effort to resolve the problems through a process of peaceful dialogue. When all peaceful options are exhausted, we may come to a stage where there is no option left but to send our security forces to remove the ULFA and BODO militants from our territory.”
Finally, on December 16,2003, on the eve of our National Day as Commander of the Armed Forces, His Majesty had to lead the security forces into action putting his own life at risk. Within a week, finally the Assamese militants were flushed. out of our territory. This kind of sacrifice and dedication of a head of state I read only in the pages of history and the people of Bhutan for generations to come will never forget this act of bravery of His Majesty for ensuring security, independence and sovereignty of the Druk Yule.
Transition from Monarchy to Democracy
The National Assembly of Bhutan started in 1953 at Punakha by His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the Third Druk Gyalpo with 150 members. He abolished serfdom and launched the Five Year Plan economic development. A nine-member Royal Advisory Council (RAC) was also established later to advise the King on important matters of state and I had the honor of being a member of the RAC from 1968 to 1970. The Third Druk Gyalpo was called the father of Modern Bhutan.
The Fourth Druk Gyalpo after ascending the Throne in 1972, ensured that the members of the National Assembly were elected by way of simple majority from their respective constituency except the nominated government officials and the Cabinet Ministers. The Royal Advisory Council members were elected by the National Assembly from amongst the regional Assembly members headed by Zhung Kalyon. as Chair Person. Many important legislations and development programs were approved and implemented. The National Assembly became the place for discussing all matters of national importance.
Much emphasis has been given on schools, basic health units and agriculture centers in the rural areas and all non-national contract head of schools were replaced by the citizens who could instill the values of local custom and traditions. Within a short period, the impact was visible.
From 1980 onwards people were being prepared towards democratic principles and practices through decentralization and devolution of power to the people. It was initiated by establishing Dzongkha Yarkay Tshogchung [DYT ] or District Development Council in 1981 and to empower the people further Gewogs Yarkay Tshogchung [ GYT ] or the Village Development Council was launched in 1991. It was my privilege as Home Minister then to establish and implement 121 GYTs. The most important aspect was to ensure election of the Council members by way of adult franchise and they meet regularly to consider local development agenda and the recommendations and the minutes forwarded to the DYT and to the Home Ministry and the Planning Commission for resource mobilization and providing adequate budgetary provisions. Thus bottom up planning process was in effect by way of empowering the people. The local Gewogs were also responsible for implementing the agreed programs. The districts and the central government remain responsible for. providing resources and technical back stopping. His Majesty also initiated review of progress and Five Year plans at public meetings in every Dzonkhag and changes effected based on public submissions.
In 1997 the Cabinet was dissolved and further changes were effected in governance by making the Cabinet Ministers to be elected by the National Assembly from amongst the nominated candidates. The post of the Prime Minister rotated each year amongst the ministers.
Bhutan celebrated 100 years. of Monarchy in 2007 and the Fourth King abdicated by delegating all power to the Crown Prince in 2006 on the 99th year of the Monarchy. On December 16,2006 on the occasion of celebration of National Day at Tashiyangtse Dzonkha. His Majesty said, “I also would like our people to know that Chotse Penlop will be enthroned as the Fifth Druk Gyalpo in 2008. As it is necessary and important for a King to gain as much experience as possible to serve the country to his fullest capacity, I will be delegating my responsibilities to Chotse Penlop before 2008”
By then the draft Constitution was also ready. Preparations for the Election was being made in particular to prepare the voters to elect their own representatives or the members of the parliament by way of adult franchise. The first General Election had four political parties for the first time and two parties participated in the final general election in which the Druk Phunsum Tshogpa (DPT) won 45 of 47 seats of the National Assembly. The Constitution was adopted by the Parliament on …2008 and Bhutan became Democratic Constitutional Monarchy in accordance with Article 1-2. Of the Constitution.
Bhutan India Relation
Whenever I think of Bhutan India relation, it reminds me of what John F Kennedy had said on his visit to Canada. He said,” Geography has made us neighbours. History made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder “
Bhutan is located on the south of the Himalaya and a member of South Asia Association of Regional Cooperation. (SAARC) and South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) and also of ADC. Asian Development Cooperation besides many International organisations.
Until 1950, Bhutan was pursuing the policy of self-imposed isolation owing to colonialism in the neighbourhood. Bhutan thus remained one of the countries not colonised in the region.
Bhutan India Treaty was signed in 1949 with Independent India. In early fifties when we were in primary school in Paro, I remember seeing India’s Political Officer in Sikkim occasionally visiting Bhutan. Then came 1958, the historic visit of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru accompanied by his daughter Indira Gandhi. Since then Indo – Bhutan friendship started gaining momentum.
His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo in 1972 on ascending. the throne on the demise of H.M. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck while addressing the National Assembly has said, “I also would like to say that I hope very much that our relations with the Government of India, which has been so greatly assisting us up to the present, will grow even stronger.”
In the meantime, Bhutan India relation and cooperation moved forward from strength to strength. Roads were built, basic social services established. In 1979, His Majesty was returning from Havana Cuba after attending the Non Aligned Summit. On arrival in Mumbai in an interview to Syed Naqbi of the Indian Express, His Majesty expressed a desire to amend the 1949 treaty. Finally, in 2003 the ” Bhutan India Treaty of 1949 “was updated and Article -2 was dropped and reaffirmed their respect for each other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Indo- Bhutan relation in the words of the Fourth King, “I am happy that at this point of time, Indo- Bhutan relations enjoy a level of complete trust and friendship. There is close understanding on all issues of mutual concern and interest. I believe we have succeeded in demonstrating to the world that enlightened and far sighted leadership can make it possible for a large country like India and a small neighbour like Bhutan to coexist in perfect harmony, trust and cooperation.
We hope that the happy and mutually beneficial relationship, which we have established so successfully, will serve as a model to other countries.”
Finally, I arrived at the conclusion that His Majesty belongs to a different species of mankind. All these history making events have been possible, only by leaders with courage and unusual wisdom to look beyond predictable solutions. Such creativity and leadership distinguishes the extraordinary from the ordinary, HM Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo indeed belongs to the rare breed of uncommon leaders.