The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yet Another Political Drama

Hari Prasad Adhikari

To keep the dic tatorship and ra cial discrimina
tion alive in Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk and his son’s government are busy legitimising their ugly activities of governance, which have been continuous for about a century in different forms and model.
New drama At present, a new drama of a joint parliamentary session for the so-called first democratically-elected parliament and government is in process, and is to be recognised by the Indian government. The responsibility of directing this play is in the hands of King Jigme Kheshar Namgyal Wangchuk, with conditions that the very clauses that provide absolute power to the king and his family will not be altered. For this, the supporting role has been given to Jigme Y. Thinley and four members of his council of ministers.
According to the plans set up during the election drama, Thinley’s political party, the Druk Phuensum Tshokpa (DPT), was declared victorious by 95.7% votes (i.e., it won 45 out of the 47 seats) in the lower house of parliament. Can such a result be considered normal in a free and fair democratic election?
Thinley has 45 men and women as assistants in the showcase occupying the treasury bench, people who have been in different ministries and departments for the last 34 years of governance in Bhutan. All these members were high ranking army and police officials, body guards of the royal family members, royal advisory councillor, principal, vice- chancellor, directors, judges, secretaries, ministers and diplomats.
Among these bureaucrats are some Nepali faces who are not allowed to raise the issue of forceful eviction and racial discrimination, cultural and linguistic biasness, which have ruined the southern and eastern parts of Bhutan since 1992. Their intention of bringing some Nepalis and Sarchops in the parliament (Lhostampas were not included in the ministry since 1998-2008) is a tactic to wash away the stains of ethnic cleansing from the face of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk. These Nepali members have mortgaged their voice and conscience with the King through Thinley against the welfare of the public of their respective regions.
For example, Thakur Singh Paudel is the education minister and has good command of Nepali, English, Sarchop and Dzongkha languages. He is a good academician, but he is compelled to answer the questions raised in the assembly only in Dzongkha. His ethnic dress is banned in the offices. Due to such restrictions, many members from southern Bhutan, such as Prahlad Gurung, representative from Pagli constituency, are not in a position to take part in the debate of the National Assembly because they are poor in Dzongkha. Similarly, Justin Gurung from Chirang needs to twist his Nepali pronunciation like a Dzongkha speaker while speaking with media representatives.
Not only this, India’s role has been most helpful in playing such a drama in Bhutan. For instance, a high-level delegation comprising of the prime minister of India and his principal secretary, security advisor, foreign secretary and joint secretary visited Thimphu, Tala and Punakha from May 16-17. During the visit, the delegation announced New Delhi would lend a helping hand to implement the 10th five-year plan of the King’s government without attaching conditions for the removal of racism and despotism.
Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh addressed the joint session of parliament and laid the foundation stone at Punasangchu for the construction of the 1,095 MW hydro-electricity power project. Punasangchu will be the biggest hydro-electric power plant in Bhutan, in which four out of the 20 districts will be affected by the project. Among these, hundreds of villages of Chirang, Kalikhola and Dagapela will be under water once the dam is completed. These districts belong to thousands of Lhotsampas who were forcefully evicted in 1992 and not allowed to return.
As a result, these Bhutanese have been compelled to accept third country settlement in Europe and America. This foundation stone is archeological evidence to show India’s involvement in the ethnic cleansing of Bhutanese of Nepali origin to fulfill its self-interest.
On the way to supporting the Bhutanese despot, the Government of India’s definition and views regarding democracy have been arbitrary since 1968. They branded the absolute king as a democrat of the world. This time, too, personalities in the governing corridor of India are all praise for the so-called Bhutanese democracy. It has been crystal clear to the world by now that the Bhutanese king is not far from the feudal lords of ancient times.
Unfortunately, without addressing the ethnic cleansing issue and repatriation of Bhutanese refugees, several bills have been tabled in parliament, such as the draft of the constitution of Bhutan, election bill and national referendum bill. There will be no difficulty in passing them as Thinley, the party president of the DPT, has already made arrangements and allotted the topic and text to be spoken in the assembly to his fellow party men. Therefore, whatever bills are in the pipeline for discussion are mere gimmicks and eye washing tactics.
Real democracy
Looking at these realities, the international community and Government of India need to review the matter very honestly. They need to take appropriate measures to ensure real democracy, where citizens of different ethnicity can be accommodated. Lastly, third country settlement and artificial democracy and parliament are not lasting solutions. It is only a periodic interval of reunion and a preparatory ground for the next revolution.
(Adhikari is former National Assembly member of Bhutan)

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