'King hasn't understood what the problem in Bhutan is'
Devi Bhakta Lamitarey, was and still is in the list of wanted anti-government leader in Bhutan. Being one of the founding leader of Bhutan State Congress (later renamed Bhutan National Congress), Lamitarey waged peaceful war against discriminatory policies of the government, and most importantly for establishing democracy and human rights in Bhutan. Through two of his sensational books – Dankido Bhutan and Murder of Democracy – Lamitarey not only became a political figure in southern Bhutan but also an image of inspiration for Bhutan who wished changes, ending absolute monarchy in Bhutan.
He escaped the government's attempt to arrest and torture. Since then, he made India as his base for operation. His activisms are silent but punching. Despite being very old, this leader in saint-dress still preserves youthful strength to fight for equality, justice, democracy and rights. Bhutan News Service hopes, this exclusive interview would be the stimulation for our leaders and young generation in our struggle against the despotism in Bhutan. Excerpts:
Bhutan has formulated a number of policies including one for cultural uniformity. What you think of them?
Whatever the policies it might impose, Bhutan targets the Hindus. There are many big cultural organizations in India or Japan, and Bhutan wants them to enter Bhutan and work for ts interests.
I think, VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) has already entered?
Whoever might have entered, it matters not. Their entry won't affect our freedom; we must create our own group that counters against them to protect our sovereignty.
Once, one Christian missionary had entered the country and begun running schools but government compelled it to move out of country. What do you know about it?
Our party stands affirmed to religious freedom of the people. This king must know the religious history of this sub-continent.
What is your reaction to the government banning smoking? You smoke so much, how can you stay in that country?
I also wish to impose it. Those under 50 years of age should not be allowed smoking, but for those above 50 years it should be free. The youngsters can sell but they shouldn't smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco. There is police authority to take action against those not following the law. The youngster should be allowed to sell it because they have to live through business. Most of the country is covered with forest, and business is the only best option for earning in that country for livelihood. They can run hotels or run tourism company, where selling cigarettes is necessary. So, those under 50 years should not be allowed to take tobacco and other narcotic products. These are anti-sex products.
How do you see the future of Bhutan and with whose control?
Bhutan has a good future, with people ruling the country. Future of Bhutan rests with Bhutanese people. There are many parties – they talk of Gurkhas, Sarchops or Ngalongs, but my party talks of the people.
How can you bring these three groups together?
Culture varies within short distance. Language cannot change but tone changes. Bhutan has direct affect of the continental atmosphere – there are places with hot and cold weather within short distances. That makes culture differ. Culture is created in a community and is protected it to keep its purity. You can see in India as well where cultural variation exists. There are people who eat dog or cow and pray both these animals. In our country as well, there are many cultural groups. We pray cow while other one eat them. We have to keep both of them satisfied. So, what my party proposes to divide the country into provinces ensuring nation remains united. Divide at the bottom, unite at the top. Bhutan can adjust with that system. Nepal will also have it soon, India already has it.
What Bhutanese king says, small country like Bhutan cannot resist with diversities that India can. But you propose the other way!
Without that democratic system cannot begin. My party cannot assume a constitution inferior to that of India. Citizens are the same – they can freely move in two countries. So, what difficulties are there to divide the country (into provinces)? Gurkhas will have their own government, Sarchops their own or the ruling ethnic Ngalong. The Ngalongs, who ruled the country, are in minority, they must now seek support from other ethnic communities for government formation. (Rongthong) Kuenley Dorji has realized this fact and is trying to win the support of the Gurkhas.
Do you know that Lhendup Dorji said? He asked for a constitution in Bhutan, like in India, soon after the murder of prime minster (in 1964) so that such incidents would never occur again. The murder was a plan of the king; he had used Brigadier (of the Bhutan Army Chhabda) Namgyal, one of the leaders of Bhutan State Congress, for that murder. Dorji had been more popular (among the people) and there was power struggle with king. Namgyal said the work was done as per the order from the king, who was at that time the supreme power, but compelled to let people know that Namgyal did the murder. This way, the monarch did not allow to mature relation between Dorjis and southern people.
With which community – Ngalong or Sarchops—coalition of Lhotsampas would be best in Bhutan?
The first coalition would that of Gurkhas and Sarchops. These two communities must come together for freedom of Bhutan because if a minority community continues to hold on the power, the Sikkim formula will get implemented. The larger communities have greater responsibility for safeguarding the sovereignty.
Do you think the Sikkim episode would repeat in Bhutan as well?
Of course. If the refugees are not repatriated, there won't be any other results. If they are repatriated, the king will get continuity, he won't face any difficulties. He will get grants and donation to run the country. He will invest for the people – like he made you doctor. You consumed over 500,000 dollars of the grants. Mr Gazmere also consumed similar amount. There are many such others. Prepare the list, who all have taken the money. You are not entitled to stay here, but should have directly gone to the Bhutanese king and brief him the reality. I had told you earlier to inform king about the torture being given to Lamitarey. Since you were one of the witnesses, you should have just said,' I have received the notice of the torture and informed the king taking it to be my responsibility'. That would not have caused any harm on you. You afraid to do that.
The government intended to arrest the second son of Tika Ram Lamitarey—the write of Dankido Bhutan, unfortunately, they arrested another Lamitarey from Damphu, the last son of Jaya Ram Lamitarey and tortured.
What all you wrote in your books – Dankido Bhutan and Murder of Democracy – have come to be a reality. How did you predict that?
When you work for the interest of the people without having any personal vested interest, you will receive information from all sides, intelligence will come to you. The security agreement between Bhutan and Indian states that India will only interfere in case of external threats on Bhutan. However, the agreement did not state anything about Indian involvement where there is misunderstanding between the king and the people. But, India misused the agreement. The Indian government mistreated the refugees in Saralapada camp and another in Bengal. These are mistakes by the Indian government who thought if it flushed Nepali speaking Bhutanese from taking shelter in India, Bhutan will flush from inside to take them to Nepal. With this India is mocking with the UN office, mandated to protect the rights of the people. India is making, bridges, roads, schools, hospitals and other infrastructures, and what the independent government of Bhutan is looking at? What they are doing for Bhutan's independence? The people will raise this question (when time matures).
Are the rulers in Bhutan realizing that this is a greater plan designed by India?
Bhutan used to think, when demands for equality surfaced, that it was part of the Sikkim episode. Gradually, they are understanding the reality because feudals take long time to learn what is wrong and right. Democracy prevailed in Britain only when the king was axed. You might remember the statement by Leo Tolstoy who mocked with communists for gathering poverty stricken people to fight against the king. He called communist foolish, intellectually corrupt but the revolution succeeded two years after Tolstoy's death. Similar is the story from France. In all these, the sickness is the democracy. Similar episode resurrected in China under the leadership of Dr Sun Yat Sen.
Has Bhutan learnt from what happened in all these countries including recent one in Nepal?
To learn or not to learn rests on the (topographical) condition of our own country. For me, there is nothing to learn from Nepal.
How many had left Bhutan in early 1950s?
It should be around 1500. You might count the population how many have they become by this time, because they might not have stayed as saints like me. They should also have not stayed quite in their struggle against Bhutanese suppression. Even those who have been designated as refugees now are not staying mum. They are readying to die for their cause. King killed over 360, again many must die. What the government of India is saying? Thousands died in Nepal for democracy, similar number died for Gurkhaland in India but Bhutan has killed only few. Kill more to get democracy. All those landed in Nepal are made failed. How can you work under such a feeble foundation? We have the works with Assam, New Delhi, West Bengal government or Gurkhas in West Bengal. We must work from these places.
Why didn't you come forward after the 1990s demonstration?
When someone opens party within the country trying to stand in his own and make efforts to get support from people, why should I interfere in the middle. I already had opened a party, if Bhutanese people wish to reactivate it, they will do it. They (parties opened after 1990) have taken donations from people, but Lamitarey hasn't. I have received Rs 7 donation for my struggle – Rs 5 from my mother and Rs 2 from my relative. People from Jharbari had contributed me Rs 150 to help me arrive here.
You have been talking about repatriating those people who left country in 1950s?
I have been staying in India and eating the products of Indian government. I eat India but India will not eat me. I talk about struggle staying in India yet party operates within the country. This party was not formed here, like yours. King had asked those fled in 1952 to return to country because if they did not do so, freedom of Bhutan will culminate. Yet they have been staying in India (though few returned). Go along the Indo-Bhutan borders, you will find large population who fled Bhutan. We must fight for repatriating these people as well if not more people will be made refugees. Another 10,000 might be expelled into Bangladesh if we keep mum. Bhote hegemony will soon end in Bhutan like that of Gurkhas whose hegemony has ended in Nepal giving rise to Nepalese people's sovereignty. There shouldn't be dominance of a particular group, the dominance should be of national population. We must be ready for long term struggle without t violence.
What your party thinks of Bhutan's political structure?
Bhutan, geographically locates in between two big nations. Both of them have over 2.5 million military forces and atom bombs. To secure Bhutan's independency, our relations must be inclined to India due to its cultural proximity. There is free travel for Bhutanese and Indian citizens across the border. What we must assure that citizens from these countries might stay anywhere or carry out business but they must cast their vote only in one country – their original. But these Gurkhas and Bhote community are very backward in political consciousness, it won't be easy in short period of time.
What you wish to say to the new king?
Rulers do not experience the reality of life as the people in the streets experience. They have all the luxuries so they fail to feel what poverty stricken citizens say. You just have seen the fate of Nepalese king who had asked his citizens to call him the incarnation of Lord Vishnu. I don't know how far sighted our king is. I heard king consulted his prime minister recently if the refugees could be repatriated. In response prime minister is learnt to have advised the king that repatriating the refugees meant inviting Maoism in Bhutan. But I think, it is opposite. Failure to repatriate refugees meant giving rise to the Maoism in Bhutan. If they are repatriated, there won't be any Maoist, ULFA or LTTE. If you maintain economic equality, provide rights, is there a need of rebellion? Rebellion is the last option people choose for seeking justice. What should I tell the king, because what happens in the country doesn't reach him in reality? People near him bar him from knowing the facts. Until you get the rights to speak and write, there is no need to raise the arms. Arms bring greater destruction than solution.
There are various groups in the refugee community, who haven't come together in all these years. What do you think would be good to do now?
If you have any political affiliations, first go back to the country and work for your right to voting. Educate people on political changes, circulate the pamphlets and teach the people about your intention and plans. Only after that you establish your party. Otherwise, keep quite.
You had once brought out a pamphlet entitled 'democratic movement'.
The whole movement in Bhutan is a democratic movement. My party had published that and distributed in Bhutan. But I wonder how many citizens read it because who cared democratic movement at that time leaving your village business?
Now people are moving to different countries. Don't you think it would dismantle democratic movement (in Bhutan)?
First you prepare the list who all are going and where. Tell them go wherever they wish but request to contribute one dollar a month. Contributing one dollar would not be a big problem. When that money comes, be prepared to use it in proper manner.
Once Jaya Prakash Narayan, whom I met in Banglore to hand over by book (Murder of Democracy), had told me that mentality of the Bhutanese rulers have not changed over the years they cultivated during the British rule in India. They still believe in central supremacy, one-man leadership. Until this mentality remains with Bhutanese rulers, India might face it difficult to support us. As such, let you go your fellowmen anywhere they wish until this situation remains in Bhutan. You must know that our struggle shouldn't derail the relation between two governments.
But there is no leadership in our community!
It won't be that fast like you assume. Making people politically aware and to make them feel the importance of nationality need regular indoctrination through gups and local leaders.
Why you give stress on Gurkha?
Because we are Gurkhas, not Nepalese. Do you know, who made Nepal? It is Gurkhas. And they had gone from India during the period of Mughal rule. Earlier, Nepal was a country of Kiratas, to which Athar Vedas states 'kairav'. Let's forget that. What we do must be for the better interest of our future generation. If Lamiterey dies, another person gets ready for the fight. All we talk for now is for the future generation.
What are your plans?
Primary target is for the democracy. Go to refugee camps and tell them to run for elections and you take over the responsibility. If they vote to my party, it will be my responsibility to take lead in freedom struggle. My party did not make them refugees. It was by those who operated in Garganda. Once I had gone there to met Mr Budathoki, some told me that his party is being support by some communist groups in the field. But the strategy for settlement (of the issue) forwarded by his party was not correct. So, I knew he will be killed in future. And I thought, his killer might not leave me as well. So, I inform him of future difficulties and requested him to get out of that trap. In politics, you cannot determine, who will be friend or foe.
To keep Bhutan an independent kingdom, the population must at least be 5 million. With this, we shall have at least 500,000 armed forces, though regular forces could be less. Others would remain as militias.
But Bhutan is heading in that direction!
How can you create a force in country that has 600,000 people? All people cannot engage in the same profession. You have to run the country, run the business, manage tourists etc etc.