Redefining Bhutan-Nepal relations

Published on Dec 15 2008 // Opinion
By I. P. Adhikari

Bhutan’s connection to South Asia is connected not by geography but through ethnic combination and it would be irrelevant to mention that the relation between the Himalayan kingdom with India was possible in absence of Nepal. In short, Bhutan’s connection with South Asia begins with Nepal, if not, at least with Nepali speakers.

The connection between Bhutan and India might not delink now in absence of Hindus or Nepali speakers in southern Bhutan, but Bhutan’s assertion of close cultural relation with India would derail to zero if intolerance against Lhotsampas continue in the current torrent.

Bhutan, as it has been projected today, has it root in Tibet. Political and cultural dominants of present Bhutan have greater links with Tibet, less with South Asia. The very reason was flouted by China when it claimed suzerainty over Bhutan, to be part of Tibet.

The present political elite of this kingdom descends from northern part of the Himalayas and until 1905, relation with northern neighbor was sound – much closer than its southern. Several attempts by the British rulers to maintain relation with that ‘country in transition’ failed to yield any results until the beginning of the 19th century.

Shabdrung, who unified the country in early 17th century, despite being evicted from his kingdom in Tibet, tried to resume relation with the north. Several Nepali speakers taken during his reign were settled in south to constrict the linkage between British India and his administration. But it long run, it turned the other way round.

The rulers and ruling tribe, culturally and customarily are bound by the tradition and practices brought down from Tibet, where they originate. Their way of life, language and physical appearance match with Tibetans, not Indians. Dzongkha, the national language is a derivative of the Tibetan.

During coronations, king still receives sacred empowerment of the five elements from Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, whose perpetual incarnation was evicted and finally killed and whose system of governance was terminated by the Wangchuks in 1907. Mahakala, who is believed to have guided Shabdrung to Bhutan from Tibet, is now manifested in the Raven Crown as Jarog Dongchhen, which the Bhutanese monarchs today wear.

Jigme Namgyel was the first to wear the Raven Crown despite the fact that he was not the king. It was designed by Lam Jangchub Tsundru from Tsang Yengoen in Tibet. Remember, it was rulers from Tsang province who drove Shabdrung to Bhutan and continued attacking him to ensure he does accomplish power in the south. Every King of the Wangchuck dynasty has then been enthroned with this Raven Crown made by A Tibetan. In this sense, King Jigme Khesar has become the sixth Raven King, indirectly humble to Tibet.

In fact, the Nepali speakers, who are Hindus by religion and settled in southern part of the country, are source of tightening relation between India and Bhutan. Indian culture, traditions and way of life infuse with Lhotsampas and through them, the Bhutanese Drukpa society gradually opened up for closeness with its southern neighbor. Thus, Nepali speakers born to be bridge connecting the Drukpa followers with the traditional Hindu population of India.

The relation took a twist when Bhutanese regime began hammering Hindus in the south in late 1980s on charge of being illegal immigrants. It is unavoidable fact that few Nepali speakers migrated to southern Bhutan as late as 1970 considering the porous border with India, Bhutan’s ruthless action in south largely tortured more to genuine citizens than those late immigrants. It was result of the Bhutan’s visionless rulers to tighten the migration regulations rather than terminating citizenship of those who are genuine.

The relation that tainted after the flush of over 100,000 Nepali speakers in early 1990, who are now resettled in western countries including USA, Australia and Canada, has started mould through exchanges of people’s contact of late. Last week, an exhibition was held in Thimphu, where Bhutanese artists joined Nepalese artists from Kathmandu for Bhutan Canvass 2008 that reflected revising relation between the two Himalayan nations. On the eve of the Bhutan King’s coronation last month, Nepalese Magasaysay winner Sanduk Ruit ran eye camp donating vision to many visionless Bhutanese and among few invitees to coronation was Nepalese envoy to Bhutan based in New Delhi.

This is symbolic resemblance of cultural relations of Bhutan with Nepal. But whether this revision will turn the relation tighter that it was would rest on sincerity of political actors from both the countries. The pasts are bygone and it’s time that both these nations define their relation in new way.
(Read more articles at www.freedombhutan.blogspot.com)