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Bhutan v Nepal – different routes to democracy

Bhutan and Nepal, two Himalayan countries, deeply impacted by Indian thoughts, are among the last surviving kingdoms fast on their way out from monarchy to popular rule. One doesn’t know whether this would be a loss or gain to the world. But this is change which is constant, relentless and all-powerful, even if it, sometimes, has a corroding effect! The only thing anyone can do is prepare to adequately meet such changes and respond to them as best one can. If the response is adequate and correct, that society, or individual, moves forward. Failure to do so results in being overtaken by the current of events!

What different routes Nepal and Bhutan seem to be taking in their march to the future! Bhutan’s ‘footsteps’ seem sure and deliberate, and inspiring as well; Nepal’s, on the other hand, appear to be more confused and uncertain, coming in the wake of a series of sad and tragic happenings in the last several years, a large part of it involving self-centred Palace Intrigues, forgetting the welfare of the people and allowing the situation in general to get out of hand! 

Reading news reports about the king of Nepal being forced to leave his palace by his people, one felt sad not just for the members of the royal family but for the people of Nepal who, one thinks, deserve better than what have happened so far. One also thinks about the contributions that Nepal has made – the Nepalese themselves have come to symbolize human qualities such as hard work, bravery, loyalty etc. – as well as one’s own Nepali friends in Nagaland, and other places, and what might be going through their minds! “Identity” is such an emotive issue that the difference between Identity and Identification often gets blurred, and more often than not, as a consequence of stereotyped thinking, you get more influenced by the latter. The result is unfair attitudes arising from inadequate thinking, moving closely on the border of racism – further injustice quickly resulting from actions moved by such views and considerations! The same is seen in inter-tribe relations. Such areas are where we all need to tread `softly’. 

But, it must be stated that the happenings in Nepal throws a reflection on India, especially Hindu India. Nepal was the only Hindu kingdom left in the world. Nepal’s kings are/were also Rajputs of Indian origin. And Nepal is a close and valuable neighbour. When the gruesome and tragic incidents surrounding the Palace Intrigues were going on, and Nepal was in the throes of cathartic experiences, where was India? More specifically, where was Hindu India? Where were the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) – do not leave out the Shiv Sena, – and all their frontal organinizations? In India these organizations are all very powerful and they are able to bark very loudly and create hurdles that no one can cross! But are these organizations only “big frogs” in the Indian pond and helpless elsewhere? When the chips were down the only people who seemed able to really make a difference appeared to be the Indian Left! What could be going through the minds of Hindu India?! 

As someone who respects Hindu Civilization, including its accommodative spirit – although Hinduism, at its core, can prove to be quite violent and militant – one feels concerned for the spirit of India. This concern arises because one is quite certain that India, and Hinduism, have a role to play in the life of humanity! Is Hindu India so obsessed about its Big Frog status that it is forgetting its world role?! If Hindu India cannot play an effective role in Nepal, where could it? I have used the phrase “Hindu India” quite easily here. I have done so because when we talk about India being the only ancient civilization that has survived, we are, basically, talking about Hinduism!

India must know that her neighbours, in many ways, can shine only in the reflected glory of India. It is up to ‘India’ whether it will play its ‘true role’ and allow/enable neighbours, and even its own ethnic groups, to ‘glow’, and enhance the brightness of India so that India may inspire the world with adequate answers for modern living. 

Thinking of Nepal, naturally, makes one think of Bhutan, its neighbouring Himalayan kingdom, also in the process of experiencing gigantic transition and change. But in this case, the change and transition are deliberate and they are thought-through responses to adequately meet the challenges of the future. What a welcome contrast to Nepal. In Nepal, the king does not want to leave his throne but he is forced to do so; in Bhutan, the people do not want the king to ‘abdicate’ but he gives up his throne voluntarily for the sake of his people and, as a result, he is also able to guide, and channelize, the process of change as he has envisioned. This also means that the change is peaceful, it has the willing acceptance and active cooperation of the people and has the best chances of success. Where have we seen such inspiring leadership and ‘revolutionary’ ideas in such a long time? 

Personally, I first became ‘aware’ of Bhutan when it hosted a South Asian conference in an attempt to resolve the Sri Lankan Tamil Issue. I said “wow!” because it seemed it was not the size of a country or how powerful it may be that mattered but more what the proverbial “gray matter” was telling it! It seemed just right for Bhutan to be hosting such a conference – Bhutan was peaceful, neutral, posed no threat to anyone, and offered a serene ambience to inspire those involved in the conflict. Any other country in South Asia hosting such a conference would have turned ‘controversial’ and would reach no where! It was such a pity that the parties involved failed to give more serious consideration to the Thimphu Declaration.

Could they be having regrets now?!

For the second time, I was struck, and inspired, by Bhutan’s international leadership in the field of human development when I became involved in writing the first and, so far, only Nagaland Human Development Report. Those of us involved in writing the Report found that Bhutan had made Human Happiness one of the components for measuring Human Development! How do you measure human happiness? But Bhutan is an independent sovereign country and the international community was, obviously, happy with this ‘anomaly’ yet vital ingredient for promoting human welfare. It was a concept most nations would have liked to trumpet as their own but could not do so because they would not be able to translate it into practice (somewhat like the Communitization concept in Nagaland); some other countries may have found themselves in a position to do so but they failed to come up with the idea first; and, finally, there was no country that could come up with any reason to oppose the concept! For the second time I said “wow!” I felt good inside that at least part of the Himalayas, of which I am a part, is showing the way forward through imaginative thinking and right use of its status. 

To some, the Himalayas and Mount Everest may represent a ‘hurdle’ and/or a challenge to the indomitable human spirit and, having conquered it, for them to declare their ‘manhood’! But the Himalayas are not just cold, dangerous and inhospitable snow-capped mountains, waiting to be conquered! The Himalayas also mean people and they are exhibiting human standards for the rest of the world to emulate, from the highest peaks in the world! 

Change and Response are the two things that decide the direction of the future – individual, society, nation, world. One of the few countries I can think of that is really and truly shining its light to the world is Bhutan! Can anyone imagine any person with “absolute” power, on his own volition, giving up that power, and going to the extent of placing himself at the mercy of his people by empowering them to remove him?! This is what the new Draft Constitution of Bhutan envisages at the instance of the king of Bhutan, a king who `retired’ in favour of his son as the next king and leading his people and country by example. The reaction of Topol, ala “Fiddler on the Roof”, might have been, “…Unheard of; Absurd!” I believe before his time comes to depart for the next world, the almighty would be kind to allow His Majesty, Jigme Singhye Wangchuck, to see much of the fruits of his “labour”. 

What is even more pertinent is the challenge Bhutan is quietly but surely posing, by example, to all countries of South Asia as well as China and Myanmar, indeed the world, and its leaders. With investments and assisted projects in Bhutan, India may think it is playing its role, and it is, but Bhutan may be silently “telling” India, and others, where their true roles may lie! 

It is now fashionable and politically correct to keep talking about the survival of Planet Earth. Perhaps, India and other countries can pick up a few tips from Bhutan.

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>> Read the original story by Charles Chase on Kangla Online