King’s Democracy endangers Bhutan’s sovereignty

Published on Dec 26 2010 // Commentary
By Thinley Penjore

When the 4th monarch, King Jigme Singe Wangchuk proclaimed abdication from his golden throne in favour of the crown prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk on December 17, 2006 at Trashi Yangtse, a far flung district headquarters in the east Bhutan, world was astonished to see that an absolute monarch was changing the skin colour to transform the legacy after almost thirty-two years of his reign with an unsolved humanitarian crisis that has produced as many as over one hundred thousand of its citizens refugees and currently living in the neighbouring state of Nepal. The proclamation was accompanied by the strong storm of Democracy. Bhutan went ahead with the process of drafting the constitution on the command of no other than the King himself. Constitution drafting committee was constituted without consulting political and other social organizations that had since long been demanding for a written constitution and parliamentary democracy from exile. Not a single person or the organizations from exile were taken into confidence by the monarch thereby beginning the process of democratization aiming just to hoodwink the international community.

In due course of time, the monarch unveiled the constitution which apparently did not address the expectations and aspirations of the common people of Bhutan. Hence, the democracy demanding organizations from exile submitted “People’s Suggestion” to the government on July 17, 2006 for inclusion of vital issues relating to basic rights and fundamental freedom appropriately in the draft Constitution so as to ensure peoples’ role, rights and responsibility in a democratic Bhutan.  Despite worldwide campaign for resolving the refugee problems and also to give inclusiveness in the process of democracy, Bhutan moved ahead like a lame horse crossing the river by campaigning worldwide against the unresolved chapter of political refugee problem and completely shying away from the reality of the presence of political parties in exile, who were the pioneer organisations to demand democracy in Bhutan.

The fifteen rounds of bilateral exercise in the two decades of Nepal-Bhutan talks that finally agreed into going for verification to find the truth about the presence of Bhutanese refugees ended up with blatant ignorance of the reality. The truth about the presence of the refugees became a concealed book of truth as the joint verification finally reached to the findings of as many as 74% of Bhutanese citizens in the pilot camp of Khudunabari in the east Nepal. Bhutan’s highest level diplomacy succeeded to convince donor nations, who ultimately decided to give a temporary relief to the refugees through third country resettlement option as Bhutan showed its stubbornness and complete reluctance to accept repatriation on the pretext of several excuses like the demographic imbalance and instability of the government in the bilateral partner.

While Bhutan continued its process of undemocratic democratization, the true democracy aspirers, who walked the street in 1990 and 1997 became no better than spectators as Bhutan completely ignored their presence in exile.  Making the situation even worse, Bhutan further went on promulgating regulations that debarred democracy aspirers living inside the country from forming political parties, who wished to prepare for competing in the election race.  Their hope of becoming equal partners in the democratic set up of the 21st century Bhutan appeared no better than a silent witness to the process of a farce democracy.  Apt to what the Treasure Revealer Terton Drukdra Dorje prescribed in his prophesy about the storm of indifferences that did not reveal the coming of a fifth King in Bhutan, the emergence of Trongsa Penlob surely ascended the golden throne as a Constitutional Hereditary Monarch in the fifth reign of the absolute hierarchy.

The fifth King (December 17, 2010 address to the nation) maintains, “Throughout my reign I will never rule you as a King. I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son. I shall give you everything and keep nothing; I shall live such a life as a good human being that you may find it worthy to serve as an example for your children; I have no personal goals other than to fulfil your hopes and aspirations. I shall always serve you, day and night, in the spirit of kindness, justice and equality”. Further, the King continues to say, “The foremost being the building of a vibrant democracy, the foundations for which have been built by the fourth Druk Gyalpo. Let us nurture what we have begun so well, so that our nation shall reap the rewards of strong democracy for all time to come”. On the other hand, people’s fear of the process of democratization having emerged not from the people, but from the palace as a “Royal Gift” to the people and “Royal Legacy” to the heir gradually turns out transparent to what the true democrats describe the whole exercise as “farce and pseudo” in its nature and “hallow” in its commitment for a better, safer and peaceful and, prosperous Bhutan.

The process at the initial stage victimized highly capable and professional people like Dr. Jigme Singye, who lost his career and ultimately left the country to work overseas for a better livelihood.  Similarly Dr. Sangye Thinley, also a professional in the health sector, resigned and left the country to work overseas perhaps knowing the bleak future ahead of them as strong storm of political favouritism and nepotism surfed the waves of democratization. While several countless potential citizens returned to their homesteads with empty bags under their armpit, those working in the civil service and the circle of opportunities in the centre began to experience bitter life of democracy as the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression became a daily bargain.

To quote a few examples, Mr. Yeshi Dorje, probably a freelance reporter said, “I worked for weeks in advance to obtain clearance from the relevant authorities to photograph the colourful Opening Ceremony presided over by the Druk Gyalpo”…… and continues to say, “I met and sought advice from the Hon’ble Speaker and the Secretary of the National Assembly on how best to photograph the event; which gates to enter through and ran through the entire gamut of the DOs and DONTs of photographing in the Great Hall”.  However, he was shooed away for the reasons not clearly known to him thereby having his right to information deprived of.  This quote from his blog expresses his frustration even after the dawn of democracy and consoles to himself, “I am angry and I feel cheated and deprived and my right as an equal citizen abused but there is nothing I can do about it or anyone to whom I can complain about it without risking serious repercussions. I simply cannot risk distortion of truth”. Of late, Dr. Rinchen Chhophel resigned from one of the highest responsibility as Executive Secretary of the Commission for Women and Child for the reason best explained by Kuensel, quote, “Although an autonomous agency, the country’s national commission for women and children (NCWC) always functioned under the control and guidance of the government.”

As an executive secretary of the Commission, Dr Rinchen Chophel resigned soon after presenting the status of the commission at the midterm review recently and said that they could not function independently of government influence. As a reflection of his utter frustration, he was quoted to have said, “The reports they (government) prepared based on their field studies on the status of Bhutan’s women and children were twisted and shaped to suit the way in which the country wished to project its image in the eyes of the international community”, which is truly injudicious.

The Indo-Bhutan treaty of 1949 was renewed with the historic signing by Trongsa Penlob from Bhutan and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on behalf of the People’s Republic of India at New Delhi in 2007.  However, had the King not formally abdicated the throne, the signing of such an agreement should have been carried out by the King only as the head of the state.  Since the agreement was signed not by the King, question arises, whether people had mandated or authorized the Trongsa Penlob to sign on behalf of the people as head of the state and if so, why it was not mentioned so on the document of such a high sanctity.  In absence of such a mandate on the Trongsa Penlob, which recalls the episode of Trongsa Dornyer assigning his younger brother Dorje Namgyal to the frontier borders following Deothang cease war with British troops, who had signed an agreement to realize compensation against Assam Duars to the tune of Rs.5, 000 per annum in addition to the cost of the canon that was returned to the British India.  It was in 1886 AD that the second agreement was signed at Sinchula, where the British agreed to pay Rs.50, 000 per annum against Bengal Duars and agreed to return all the frontier tea gardens.  In the same way as the people of Bhutan are not aware about the accountability of the land compensation received annually from India until this day, it now becomes the right of the people to know about the three following positions pertaining to the treaty as well as recently reported development of the northern and southern boundary issues.

  • Missing portion of the rhino horn type of the northern land as was earlier visible on the map;
  • The rumour about an alleged proposal to give one of the southern districts to India, as reportedly mentioned by a noted Indian Professor Mahendra P Lama, published in  the journal “Protracted Refugee Situations: Political, Human Rights and Security Implications” (November 2008) edited by Gil Loescher, James Milner, Edward Newman and Gary Troeller and Published by United Nations University leaking the information about Bhutan’s offer of land to India, if true, calls for investigation and nullification; &
  • Article 3, of the 1949 Treaty signed by Bhutan and India, which reads, “In place of the compensation granted to the Government of Bhutan under Article 4 of the Treaty of Sinchula and enhanced by the Treaty of the eight day of January 1910 and the temporary subsidy of Rupees one lakh per annum granted in 1942, the Government of India agrees to make an annual payment of Rupees five lakhs to the Government of Bhutan. And it is further hereby agreed that the said annual payment shall be made on the tenth day of January every year, the first payment being made on the tenth of January, 1950. This payment shall continue so long as this Treaty remains in force and its terms are duly observed”, has not been reflected in the latest agreement signed by Trongsa Penlob dated February 8, 2007 at New Delhi.

It may thus be noted that King Jigme Singye Wangchuk’s announcement to abdicate his throne on December 14, 2006 and his son, crown prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk now becoming the new king of Bhutan, justifies to raise the question, as Bhutan News Service Posted on 08 March 2007 rightly said, “Is Bhutan kingless at this period of time?”

In absence of people’s democracy, Bhutan seems facing serious challenge for maintaining her territorial integrity and national sovereignty.  It is, thus, apparently great injustice on the part of those conscious and educationally experienced lots, who are currently deprived of their rights, not to contribute to the national policy making and to the task of nation building, by simply deserting the political ground silently and taking up overseas assignments of personal interest.  It may not be for a long term though, as such a decision is not a healthy solution to their dissidence.  On the contrary, it is high time for every one of those possessing high quality of education and calibre to work selflessly, cohesively and relentlessly towards nurturing the process for ushering in true, vibrant and inclusive people’s democracy.  It is the only and uncompromising solution that would ensure freedom, liberty, justice, equality, right to information and expression for the greater interest of sovereign Bhutan and the Bhutanese people in all time to come ahead.

Penjore is the President of Druk National Congress (Democratic)