The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Remembering the Colombo Plan

Remembering the Colombo Plan
«Bhutan’s all women delegation in Melbourne. Photo: HMRGM
Fifty years have passed since Bhutan debuted on the international stage. In 1962, Colombo Plan made an exception and admitted Bhutan as its member. In doing so, Bhutan joined its first world body.
Australia’s Prime Minister, Sir Robert Gordon Menzies (1894-1978), invited Bhutan to attend the 14th consultative committee as an observer. This meeting was held in Melbourne and chaired by the Australian senator, JG Gorton.
The head of the Bhutanese delegation, Ashi Tashi Dorji, played an instrumental role in securing this membership.
“Your Excellency, please admit Bhutan as a member of the Colombo Plan this year,” Ashi made this request to the chairman at a luncheon hosted by the Japanese ambassador.
The Australian senator, who later became the prime minister (1966-69), put down his cutlery, walked around the room and, with great enthusiasm, discussed the matter informally with the other delegates.
In the following meeting, the proposal was discussed formally and, except for Nepal, all the members agreed to accept Bhutan as a member.
At the end of the meeting, Mr Gorton pinned an opal on Ashi’s chest, and congratulated and welcomed Bhutan as its member.
The representative of Republic of South Korea saw this turn of events as an opportunity, and also applied for membership in the same meeting, and was also admitted. The New York Times reported on November 18, 1962, that South Korea and Bhutan joined the Colombo Plan.
Ashi fondly recollected her trip Down Under, but said that it had some nervous moments, particularly with the two speeches she had to deliver. The first speech was an opening address, and the second an acceptance speech. While the former was prepared in advance, the latter was an impromptu one.
“Our Bhutanese are hard working people and our young generation offer much fine materials for the future of the country.” This is how Ashi expressed the hopes of the government and aspiration of the Bhutanese.
Both speeches were short but well received, and managed to spark great interest in Bhutan. Member delegates wanted to know more and, at the end of each discussion, the standard question was, “What will our honourable members from Bhutan say about this issue?”
In 1960, Bhutan had just ended the self-imposed isolation policy, and embarked on the path of socio-economic development. Since there was no economic data, the team had no reply, and thus the standard response was, “We’ll give our opinion after the meeting,” which never happened, because the team had no clue what the meeting was all about.
The only printed information on Bhutan was the one circulated by the Bhutanese. It was a small brochure (probably the first) that was prepared with whatever little information that was available and published in Hongkong en-route.

On the final day of the meeting of the Colombo Plan, the head of the Bhutanese delegation delivered her second speech. It received a standing ovation.
In addition to being oblivious of the economic jargon, the Bhutanese team had no clue of protocols. Relating an anecdote, the head of the delegation said that, one day, a young Chinese man from the Colombo Plan Secretariat came up to her and whispered, “Since you’re the head of the delegation, you must walk in front of the other two.”
In Australia, the Bhutanese delegation stood out on three grounds. Firstly, for having the smallest delegation; secondly, the only country with an all women delegation; and lastly, Bhutan was unknown.
So, the Australians were intrigued and went out of their way to offer warm hospitality. The delegation saw the Melbourne Cup, attended a ball, and a banquet was hosted in their honor.
The governor general, Lord Richard Casey, hosted a banquet in the National Library in Canberra. The peer was one of the few Australians, who knew about Bhutan. He was governor of Bengal, during which time he made friends with Ashi’s father, Raja Sonam Tobgye Dorji. So Lord Casey was especially kind and affectionate to the Bhutanese delegation.
Before the Bhutanese team left Melbourne, the Australian Prime Minster presented Ashi with a most beautiful Australian opal brooch, which he pinned himself on her dress. The Bhutanese delegation was greatly moved by the care given by the government and the kindness of the Australians.
As a member of the Colombo Plan, Bhutan was now eligible to receive technical assistance, and have access to vast financial resources for the socio-economic development of the kingdom.

Importance of the Colombo Plan
The Colombo Plan is Bhutan’s first international membership that it sought and obtained, and was set against two important historical events.
The first was Bhutan’s conscious decision to modernise its state. The Sino-India conflict was the second historical event. Through this world forum, Bhutan announced that it existed as a sovereign nation.
Bhutan’s goal in the 1962 Colombo Plan was to secure support for the development of modern education and healthcare. Bhutanese today enjoy modern health services and have access to modern education.
As a member, Bhutan became eligible for scholarships offered by the Australian government and, as of today, almost a thousand Bhutanese have pursued higher and specialised education in Australia.
Contributed by Tshering Tashi

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