Daunt­ing Chal­lenges

Bhutan faces a num­ber of teething prob­lems as it tran­si­tions from a monar­chy to a democ­racy.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq The writ­ers, part­ners in law firm Huza­ima & Ikram (Taxand Pak­istan), are ad­junct fac­ulty mem­bers at the La­hore Univer­sity of Man­age­ment Sci­ences.

Since gen­eral elec­tions in July 2013, Bhutan is fac­ing an ac­cel­er­a­tion in cul­tural, re­li­gious, lin­guis­tic con­flicts cou­pled with sharp po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion. The elec­toral di­vi­sions are nor­mal in any democ­racy, in which com­pet­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties of­fer their pro­grams, giv­ing people a choice to se­lect the one they find bet­ter or more vi­able. But in coun­tries, like Bhutan, po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion take bizarre turns, leading to chaos and per­pet­ual in­sta­bil­ity. This hap­pens when the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship fails to agree on any na­tional agenda. Bhutan, a small and vul­ner­a­ble coun­try, is fac­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­cord and di­vi­sions for the many months now.

Be­fore Zhab­drung Nawang Nam­gyal (1594-1651) uni­fied Bhutan, it con­sisted of com­pet­ing war­lords and re­li­gious sects in dif­fer­ent val­leys, all vul­ner­a­ble to civil wars and for­eign in­ter­ven­tions. Un­der Zhab­drung, Bhutan be­came a strong re­gional player en­hanc­ing its ter­ri­tory well into Ben­gal and As­sam. Bhutan also suc­cess­fully held off and de­feated in­va­sions from big­ger neigh­bors. Un­for­tu­nately, af­ter this era, the coun­try once again be­came po­lit­i­cally di­vided with iso­lated val­leys ruled by dif­fer­ent war­lords. This led to for­eign in­ter­ven­tion as the Bri­tish took ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion and an­nexed it. The rise of the Monar­chy in 1907 saw an end to hun­dreds of years of di­vi­sions, civil com­mo­tions and sub­ju­ga­tion of the Bri­tish in 1910. There was once again po­lit­i­cal unity ac­com­pa­nied by sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity un­der the monar­chy.

In March 2008, the first elec­tions were held in which the Bhutan Har­mony Party won 44 out of the 47 seats. In Novem­ber 2008, when Jigme Kh­e­sar Nam­gyel Wangchuck was crowned, In­dia started al­leg­ing links be­tween As­samese sep­a­ratists and Bhutan’s dis­si­dent Druk Na­tional Congress. This and other is­sues per­sisted till the sec­ond elec­tions in July 2013 that were won by the op­po­si­tion People's Demo­cratic Party (PDP) which got 32 seats against Druk Phuen­sum Tshogpa Party's 15 seats.

In the wake of elec­tions, Pre­mier Tsh­er­ing Tob­gay was crit­i­cized for re­ceiv­ing the In­dian Am­bas­sador, V.P. Haran, along with the en­tire Cab­i­net on the very first work­ing day of the govern­ment. The meet­ing was ad­dressed by the In­dian Am­bas­sador. Ear­lier New Delhi forced Pa­van K. Varma, to re­sign “due to his fail­ure to pre­vent Bhutan de­vel­op­ing re­la­tions with China”.

Po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors in Bhutan al­leged that In­dia was look­ing to

fuel people’s dis­con­tent against the govern­ment. Delhi fa­vored the PDP in win­ning the elec­tion, de­feat­ing the rul­ing Peace and Pros­per­ity Party. Many re­sent what they see as In­dia’s “over­lord­ship” over the King­dom’s af­fairs. Writ­ing in his blog, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Wangcha San­g­ley won­dered: “Why do In­dian me­dia and politi­cians want to cas­trate Bhutan for the most harm­less re­la­tion­ship ef­fort with China?” Liu Zongyi, a scholar of strate­gic af­fairs at the Shang­hai In­sti­tutes for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (SIIS), a well-known think-tank, was of the view that New Delhi in­flu­enced the out­come of the 2013 elec­tion. He said: “it man­i­fested Delhi’s anx­i­ety over China’s re­cent over­tures to Bhutan. In­dia won’t al­low Bhutan to freely en­gage in diplo­macy with China and solve the bor­der is­sue,”

There is re­sent­ment in­side Bhutan that democ­racy is not bring­ing sovereignty as the lead­er­ship is hand in hand with New Delhi that treats the small, land­locked Hi­malayan neigh­bor­ing states of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan in the same man­ner as the Bri­tish im­pe­ri­al­ists. The In­dian rul­ing class has al­ways re­garded the sovereignty of these coun­tries as sub­or­di­nate to what it con­sid­ers its strate­gic in­ter­ests. This was very clearly stated by Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru who said in the 1950s that “from time im­memo­rial, the Hi­malayas have pro­vided us with a mag­nif­i­cent fron­tier… We can­not let that bar­rier to be pen­e­trated be­cause it is the prin­ci­pal bar­rier to In­dia.”

Not only the pro-In­dia and an­tiIn­dia di­vi­sions are per­pet­u­at­ing in the wake of 2013 elec­tions, there are dis­agree­ments over many other is­sues, from growth strat­egy to press free­dom, from the refugee prob­lem to eth­nic dis­tur­bances. In an open let­ter to the pre­mier, pres­i­dent of Druk Na­tional Congress (Demo­cratic) said: “Your party has a heavy re­spon­si­bil­ity to patch up the wors­ened re­la­tion­ship as well as main­tain­ing the sanc­tity of our coun­try’s sovereignty for­ever cher­ished since time im­memo­rial.” An­a­lysts say that there is noth­ing nor­mal about per­pet­ual di­vi­sions. The di­vi­sions are get­ting deeper and have im­pacted a lot more people, from the elite of Bhutanese so­ci­ety to govern­ment func­tionar­ies to or­di­nary cit­i­zens, than in 2008.

Lit­tle has im­proved on the hu­man rights scene. Ar­ti­cle 7(4) of the 2008 Con­sti­tu­tion of Bhutan en­sures that ev­ery Bhutanese cit­i­zen shall have the right to free­dom of thought, con­science and re­li­gion. Ar­ti­cle 7(15) adds that all per­sons are equal be­fore the law and are en­ti­tled to equal and ef­fec­tive pro­tec­tion of the law and shall not be dis­crim­i­nated against on grounds of race, sex, lan­guage, re­li­gion, pol­i­tics or other sta­tus. In re­al­ity, only Bud­dhists and Hin­dus are al­lowed to form or­ga­ni­za­tions to func­tion legally in the coun­try. The Re­li­gious Or­ga­ni­za­tions Act of 2007, the only leg­is­la­tion that pro­vides for the for­ma­tion of re­li­gious groups, says that its main in­tent is to “ben­e­fit the re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions and pro­tect the spir­i­tual her­itage of Bhutan”, which is Ma­hayana Bud­dhism. This be­lies demo­cratic norms and hu­man rights guar­an­teed in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

There is, how­ever, op­ti­mism in Bhutan that the youth is com­mit­ted to fur­ther the po­lit­i­cal process and over­come the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by the coun­try.

Bhutan, fight­ing po­lit­i­cal, eth­nic, cul­tural and lin­guis­tic dif­fer­ences in its nascent democrati­sa­tion process, is lucky to have a wise and vi­sion­ary monar­chy that be­sides uni­fy­ing the coun­try has helped its jour­ney from a feu­dal to a demo­cratic state. People say that now that the monar­chy has en­trusted the people with po­lit­i­cal power, it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship to use it in a ma­ture man­ner to build a strong na­tion and move ahead and stop squab­bling like petty war­lords of the past pulling a na­tion apart for limited and nar­row ob­jec­tives.

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