The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

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

Dr Singh's visit to Bhutan

By Hari Prasad Adhikari

Dr Manmohan Singh is the second prime minister of India who visited Bhutan after the latter adopted a policy of ethnic cleansing. King Jigme Singye Wangchuk (KJSW) evicted over one hundred thousand people from southern Bhutan in the late 1980s. Since then, the king has denied the right of the refugees to return to their country because the KJSW still holds the power. He doesn't want to destroy his model.
Jigme Kheshar Namgyal Wangchuk is the incumbent king of Bhutan but his official coronation is yet to take place. In this regard, international recognition and India's support is very crucial. Perhaps, Dr Singh's visit may be taken as novel conscience for official recognition until the apology and promise for repatriation of the refugees does not come from the KJSW or his son -- Jigme Kheshar Namgyal Wangchuk.

Some 16 years ago, the late PV Narasimha Rao, the then prime minister of India, visited Bhutan to sign both phases of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the Tala Hydroelectric project ignoring the bitter truth of ongoing ethnic cleansing. This is the biggest ever project in Bhutan. It was constructed and completed during the period of ethnic cleansing. Both the visiting prime ministers are members of India's National Congress, which has always been vociferous against any sort of racial discrimination in the past elsewhere in the world.

Between 1992 and 2008, King Jigme Singe Wangchuk made several political dramas to conceal the current ethnic cleansing and despotism. He declared no confident motion against him without removing the provision of Tsa Wa Sum (the three main elements of Bhutan -- king, the country and people) in which no one was/ is allowed to act and speak against these elements where king's place was/ is on top priority. Failing at the first attempt, he then inducted a team of confidents into the Council of Ministers and ordered to vote in their favor in the National Assembly.

Amidst all such political drama, he appointed 11 prime ministers in less than ten years. Fortunately, Delhi neither invited them to visit India nor Indian premier visited Bhutan during this period which in turn exerted significant pressure on the Bhutanese monarch though several foreign ministers of India and army generals visited Thimphu to show India's keen interest of working with the king.

In this regard, statement of former minister of external affairs Kunwar Natwar Singh and present foreign minister Pranav Mukharjee's comments were remarkable. The former said the purpose of his visit to Bhutan was to strengthen the system of monarchy while the latter said, "when the size of Bhutanese refugees in the camps in Nepal will be reduced by resettling in Europe and America, then India will come forward to defuse the refugee crisis." Aren't these comments too awkward from the foreign ministers of the largest democracy?

Keeping Kunwar Natwar Singh's comment at the top, KJSW and his son's government are preparing to promulgate the constitution of Bhutan where the king and his family will be the supreme and their legitimacy will be unquestionable and stronger.

Furthermore, the constitution safeguards the interests of the king and his royal family. No citizen of Bhutan is free to speak his or her language, preserve culture, worship, and own property. In fact, an ethnic Nepali speaker cannot send his or her children to government schools without the consent of a local government official. Nor can an ethnic Nepali speaker run any sort of business in any part of Bhutan, let alone practice of religion or preservation of culture.

It creates different tiers of people through the provision of yellow, red, green and white Kabney (shawl) holders. And the ones at the top hardly come under the court and seek justice. Members of parliament are compelled to bow before the king and high ranking officials according to their rank of Kabney. The prime minister, chief justice, Chief Election Commissioner and speakers of both the houses are the channels who obey the order of the king and are mere devices to legalize the illegal work of their masters.

Analyzing the above fact, it is very sad to say that India's Chief Election Commissioner, including several officials who were invited to give feedback on the draft constitution of Bhutan, were not successful to remove such discriminatory provisions where the king and his stooges are above the constitution.

However, it is worth mentioning that the political document was presented officially to Dr Manmohan Singh and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam by the king of Bhutan before bringing to its present shape. Unfortunately, feedback of these two novel personalities is yet to be known. Can Dr Singh come forward openly in favor of real democracy? Did he advise the king to correct the document so that it becomes acceptable to all ethnic groups? Is Dr Singh bold enough to speak out the truth so that the Druk dictator removes the discriminatory provisions in the constitution?

If not, the same constitution will be enforced under the leadership of new King Jigme Kheshar Namgyal Wangchuk in the upper house without addressing the root-cause of Bhutanese political crises such as absence of real democracy and human rights along with the restitution of properties of political victims and the repatriation of Bhutanese refugees and release of prisoners of conscience.

In addition, prohibition of 150 thousand Bhutanese to return their country is the subject of international concern.

Although Dr Singh spoke nothing about the plight of the refugees, let us hope Dr Singh understands the stark reality and corrects the past mistake of not supporting the demand of democratic reform in Bhutan. Last but not the least, if the Indian prime minister fails to notice the racial discriminatory against the ethnic minority in Bhutan, then India's prestige of regional power also needs to be questioned.

Obviously, it fits every conscience to think that American and European parliaments from overseas have already taken decisive steps. The third country settlement plan suggests that Europe and America are keen to resolve the regional problems as democratic India has failed to act.

(The writer is former National Assembly member of Bhutan)

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