Execution of Chhabda at Changlimithang

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It is not that every major event of a country is documented by the history. Nor we can accept that all events recorded in the history are principally significant. In every community, there can be many events that are always excluded by the writers.

And, in a country like Bhutan, where mostly the paid Indian writers have written the history in the government-prescribed tone, many things have been missed out, wrongly interpreted or just a brief narration mentioned to curtail the actual happenings. This is why analysts and some historians often claim that a significant part of the history dies unreported as the time passes.

The story behind the execution of the first Chief of Royal Bhutan Army, Namgay Bahadur, popularly known as Chhabda, has been a popular anecdote among senior citizens in the Bhutanese community, though only a few writers have documented some facts on this. The real charm of the story has been fading away along with the passage of eyewitness of the breathtaking public firing at the Changlimithang army parade-ground to execute Chhabda and his aides in 1964.

Who was Chhabda?
Born in 1916 in Luntse, Chhabda was regarded as one of the strongest and most powerful persons among his contemporary friends. It is said that he had possessed exceptional courage and strength, addressing him as a person of double spinal cord. The title ‘Bahadur’ was offered to him by the British as a guard of honour since he was reported to have broken two riffles with his hands in the final day of the training in the Assam Riffle in India.

Chhabda/Picture courtesy : Dr CT Dorji

By relation, Chhabda was uncle of the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Having strong trust on him and his ability, he was later conferred with the title of the chief of Royal Bhutan Army.

According to Nari Rustomji, who was a childhood friend of the first prime minister Jigmie Palden Dorji – assassinated by Chhabda’s aide Jambey – and the first Indian advisor to the third King, Chhada was personally known to him and had even shared several moments together. Rustomji has documented that Chhabda was a man of just average ability and with no English, but rudimentary Hindi and Dzongkha.

Dr CT Dorji has claimed that there are no any records of formal education by Chhabda throughout his schooling age. Thus, as claimed by Rusthomji, he didn’t speak English, limiting his spoken-languages to rudimentary Hindi and Dzongkha.

Plot against Palden Dorji
When Chhabda was the chief of army, Jigmei Palden Dorji was the prime minister (PM) of Bhutan, although he used to rule the country from India with his administration based in the Bhutan House, the home of Dorjis in Kalimpong. Being an educated personality, PM Dorji was rapidly gaining his popularity among the younger generations and young civil servants. Chhabda was annoyed at Dorji’s action of replacing old servants by young minds. There were even rumours that the PM would remove all old servants including Chhabda on the forced pension sooner or later.

Citing lack of progress in his work, Dorji had even taken away the vehicle used by Chhabda and there are even informal claims that he had scolded Chhabda with insulting words at one occasion and in presence of some junior army staff. Murder-accused Bachhu in his final statement revealed that Chhabda’s highest position in the army was insure and had once even asked if it was advisable to murder the PM.

First Bhutanese PM Jigmei Palden Dorji (m) with his brothers / Picture courtesy : Nari Rustomji

The verdict of the royal commission formed to investigate the assassination of Dorji disclosed that the plot was being planned a month ahead of the event. Interestingly, Chhabda in his statement uttered that he had felt that he too was likely to be sent on the forced pension. He even made a ridiculous statement that he uncovered a plot by PM Dorji to kill the King. But, the commission proved the plot against the King as false, concluding if Chhabda had any real evidence of such a plot, he should have informed the King or could have made arrangements to arrest the prime minsiter.

The final judgment of the commission said that Chhada’s aide Jambey shot at the PM through window when he was playing cards with his friends and family members at the royal guesthouse at Phuntsholing on April 5, 1964 and injured him fatally before he went into the dark. PM Dorji died about one and a half hours later due to excessive bleeding. However, he could say, before he breathed his last, that he had always served his king and country faithfully and loyally to the best of his ability.

Fearful arrest
When the unexpected mishap fell upon the Dorji family, the prime minister’s wife, Tessla, was in Calcutta. Someone broke the news to her on her way to Phuntsholing and as she reached the royal guesthouse just a few minutes before he bid good-bye forever.

A special request to the Bengal government was made to send some trained dongs to search for assassin’s tracks and with extensive search, the dogs were able to figure out Jambey on April 8, 1964 and was arrested. It was Jambey who disclosed that chief of army Chhabda and his two masterminds, quarter-master-general of army, Bacchu Phugel and Sangye Dorji, insisted him to make a fatal shot at the PM.

Jambey under arrest

The royal commission that investigated the case also revealed that when asked for as many army staff as possible to search for the shooter, Chhabda reported that it was late night and was unable to fulfill the request. The next day, he replied stating that his staff were busy due to heavy pressure of work and could send only a few.

The king, who had been undergoing treatment in Switzerland, decided to cut-short his stay and decided to fly back to Bhutan to handle the situation. Upon reaching Calcutta, he appointed Dorji’s half brother, Lhendup, as a regent. Some rumours already were on ground that Chhabda had ordered to even attempt at the king, as he would arrive in Bhutan.

Interestingly, the helicopter carrying the king from Calcutta did not land at the helipad in Thimphu where several senior officials and a special squad of the Royal Bhutan Army were eagerly waiting to receive the king, but landed at the palace helipad at Dechencholing.

The actual date of Chhabda’s arrest was kept secret fearing the probable retaliation from the army. The newly appointed regent met the king and discussed the possibility of arresting Chhabda, as both were cautious to take defensive measures in case Chhabda and his bodyguards would decide shot at anyone while arresting him. Probably, they discussed to line-up all the palace guards at the time of arresting Chhhabda. However, as usual being the king’s uncle, Chhabda went to the palace on March 8 following a royal order. He was then arrested, handcuffed and detained for investigation. The king appointed a young colonel, Ugen Tangbi, as the new chief of Royal Bhutan Army.

Public Execution
When Jambey was arrested, the whole plot to kill PM Dorji was uncovered. According to his statement to the commission, he and his fellow-friend Doley, were teamed up to assassinate the PM. Doley had even taken rupees 1000 from Chhabda as an advance reward for bringing the plot into action. However, only Jambey was able to shot the prime minister on one fine night. After the arrest of Jambey and Chhabda, murder-accused Sangye Dorji, Bacchu and Doley were also arrested and booked.

Soldiers take Chhabda at the firing spot / Picture courtesy : Nari Rustomji

The six-member royal commission headed by Gyelden Thinley Dorji and appointed by the king, conducted an open hearing where each of the accused was asked to give his statement. The court charged them with the Law of Treason, Act No. 17 and proved guilty by law. The court ruled that Chhabda, Sangye Dorji and Jambey should suffer death by being shot by a firing squad of the Royal Bhutan Army at a time and place to be ordered by the king. Doley, who failed to play his part in the designed plot, was issued a sentence of imprisonment for life altering his death sentence while Bacchu committed suicide inside the prison cell on May 8, 1964.

Based on the verdict of the kangaroo’s court on May 16, Chhabda, Sangye Dorji and Jambey were publicly shot at a time by a firing squat at the army parade-ground of Changlimithang on the next day. It is said that Hari Koirala, who was later promoted to the post of Dzongda with a pseudo name Hari Sonam Tobgay, shot repeatedly at Chhabda’s forehead when even a number of bullets failed to finish him.  There are even speculations that not only those three, as many as 41 Royal Bhutan Army staff were subjected to the firing execution on that day. Still, some claim that number was 21, but not 41.

(The matter presented by the writer is based on his own findings and necessarily it doesn’t represent the official say of the Bhutan News Service as regards to sequence and truth of facts highlighted in the article by him. He can be reached here.)

45 COMMENTS

  1. Suspicion is proof. I do not see any reasons for capital punishment – the public firing. They may have the conspiracy but none of their plans came to action.
    And let’s not accuse Hari Koirala for firing. What I heard is there were some 30-35 soldiers, who had loaded guns and were ordered to shoot at them through royal command. Some had bullets on it where some didn’t. Hari Koirala contributed other ways to get promoted. As Dzongda, he was responsible for evicting our people from Dagana.
    Above all this is a very interesting article. I value your contributions. Good job Bro!

  2. Perhaps this should not come out now as their descendants are living. Back in those days as little kids we seldom heard mention of this incident. But when we did once in a while, the old people used to talk about this event only in whispers and Chabbda’s name also spoken in whispers! But talking to the old soldiers who have now passed away, I got the feeling that it was a result of the attrition between the army and the civil authority, meaning Chhabda and the late PM. Perhaps both did what they thought was best for the country. But many old ex-servicemen have only awe and respect for the Chhabda and felt that the PM defiled some lhakhangs by smoking inside lhakhangs/even lighting his cigarette or cigar with the oil lamps offerings (kaarmi). Thats what I heard.

  3. Good job. Keep informing the fools of the nation who have been racially brainwashed. I have read the books by Nari Rustomji & Peter Collister…the facts and figues match.
    Now regarding the Saureyni Kazi palace…sadly the police kotas suppopsed to guard and take-care of are themselves looting the 148 yeras old seasoned wood to make their furniturte at Chamurchi Bazar. Some details regarding the kazis is available in the book of Micheal Hut “unbecoming the citizen”. People like Dasho Megraj (no hopde now) and Dasho Barun should do something so that the KAzis are not written-off as yesterday’s illrgal migrants. Ehtnic bhutanese nepaleses’ history is interwoven with Kazi’s arrival in southern Bhutan in 1883 who didnot replace/uprooted the local Bhooteas since they were not settled down there.

  4. Is there any more write up on the culminating of the day of Firing at Changlimithang,I have been told that all the citizens in and around Thimphu were asked to come and witness the event, I am eager to know about the days event, as I lost my mother just after a few days of the incidence, I’ve been told that she died not because any sickness, but due to the gruesome shock of what she witnessed that day, I was only a year and a half then.

  5. This is a blatant plagiarism from Nari Rustomji’s book, yet the author proudly claims as his ‘own finding’. Perhaps the researcher-in-the-making is ignorant enough to know that plagiarism is a crime.

  6. Hi, this is a rubbish piece from Rostomji’s biased story. Nothing useful and and not the truth. The new forger is trying to act like he knows the truth when he knows nothing. We know it, don’t fool people, mind you.

  7. Bhutan is land of sinners. Till 80s Tibetans in their popular saying say that any one doing sins at their land are disposed to Bhutan. This may be due to the treachery practiced by the autocrats of Bhutan, their inhuman or barbaric approach. Tibetan lack trust with Bhutan and these are the proofs. Bhutanese authority who had hands for this case always oppose thinking that a sense of public hate will culminate and result to their downfall and leading to their extinction. Very cynical way of judging.
    It is a shame for a nation to depend on the information from the foreigners and at the same time boasting as a very unique species in this universe. Had that book been written by paid agents of the royalties, it would have been factual for you and you would have blindly supported the claim. It will take still some centuries for you junglies through proper evolution to fit for humanity of present era.
    If you continue to reproduce in this manner, surely Bhutan will lose its statehood. People resembling close to Indian influence will lap there, Ngalung need to bow to northern neighbor. And people will support such move because of your instinct attitude. And outside power began to take the advantage of the split situation or division. You feel uncomfortable due to the presence of Lhotshampas and Sarchops, but see how you’ll be under northern neighbor rule. I consider useless to be called Bhutanese living on 17th century conditions, down trodden and 2nd class people.

  8. Bhutan is behind the rest of the world I do agree .I do strongly disagree with the comments of ngalongs and sharchops and lhotshampas .I think it is the attitude of few people .I am still in touch with my friends in bhutan and they are from different ethnicity and we have strong attachment as always .
    yes there are sensitive areas they avoid discussing but that is due to the fear factor involved .
    with time the change will come .I think there is more democratic system in place now but it may take more years for it to be used openly.
    Once again lets not be dragged by ethnicity card .That was the mistake we made .Actually every body in bhutan wanted the freedom lhotshampas wanted in 1989.
    we failed to involve others and we are still failing in our mission for which many died and many more suffered for 2 decades now.

  9. The most common thing after one becomes a refugee, is to spread propaganda and make negative comments against the Country of origin, The situation may never be in their favor, for the world is too caught up in resolving its own issues.
    If a spiritual leader like the Dalai lama could not fulfill the wishes of his Tibetan refugees, it is unlikely that a bulldozer driver can give any respite to his pathetic group of controversial refugees.

    Only Positive intent can lead to achieving your goal,while negative practice will always bring you nothing but misery.

  10. these sangays, dorjee, pema etc etc comments are so racial and disgusting. You people just wait for the time for how long you will live in so called peaceful country. It won’t take long time for thimpu to be bagdad.

  11. keep on dreaming mora….but dat dreams of urs can never be fulfilled ..our comments are racial and digusting….urs are way too much than racial and disgusting…..u call urself true citizen of bhutan…but i dont think any loyal citizens can stoop so low to defame one`s own country….we know whats the history and we dont want to hear about it from u….the whole worlds know and so do we…we dont care a shit about what this author wrote and wont believe cause we know it all….live and let others in live peace….long live bhutan and its king and people….peaceeeeeeee

  12. The one: Lookey, lookey…we have here a moderator. Don’t you worry about “our” country’s reputation, “YOUR” country, Nepal’s, reputation, as far as we can tell from the news, is already down in the gutters. (EVIL LAUGH HERE)

  13. chabda was brave nad intelligent man……… wat i have heared and what i have read is totally different……. the writer told lies…… actually jigme palden dorji try to kill our king jigme dorji wangchuck. so chabda badhur sensing the plot, he made plan to kill masterminded jigme palden before he killthird king…… but information were misunderstood and it became wrong information. if chabda is stilll alive then see the standard of ROYAL BHUTAN ARMY…….. CHABDA IS RIGHT IN WHAT HE DID BUT some how there was loopholes in writers.thus information was misinterpretrated………

  14. i guess…we the Bhutanese know what is wrong and what is right…so i dont think we have to believe what ever a foreign writer will write…..thanks for the photes but dont think that piece of history is good enough…..u did a good writing but only from the point of view of the Dorji family.it would ve been fair if u wrote it from Chhabdas side of story too….united we stand divided we fall…..

    dont think we will be next bagdag…..

  15. I think the story mention is true & its a provoking for the the citizen of Bhutan to give second thought to their mindset…..I felt sorry for those forefathers for assassinating so called Chabdha”leader”in those time…wouldn’t he be killed and be present at these juncture….the time in these days would be much happy and stronger, sovereignty…The only fulfilled wisher of the the third king chabdha is Marseilles killed in the changlimethang ground in the eyes of public…so I felt very much sorry for the killer/butcher….so I would plead all the citizenry of Bhutan pray for Chabdha like man to be reborn soon in this country ….not to happen in the future any more…

  16. Bumola is so weak to say that our monarch needs to be protected by “scapegoats” that might have run in hundreds of thousands already by now. Is monarchy so insecure in Bhutan that you make this visible expression? I am of the opinion that we are subjects to the morarchs, under their protection. If we continue to enjoy their protection (as their subjects and citizens of the nation) such fears have no place in real life as no harm reaches to the King(monarch) in the centre of the people. Has our protection gone so thin reaching to the very centre to affect the century old institution and the genealogical succession that give direction to a nation?

  17. Bumola is so weak to say that our monarch needs to be protected by “scapegoats” that might have run in hundreds of thousands already by now. Is monarchy so insecure in Bhutan that you make this visible expression? I am of the opinion that we are subjects to the monarchs, under their protection. If we continue to enjoy their protection (as their subjects and citizens of the nation) such fears have no place in real life as no harm reaches to the King (monarch) in the centre of the people. Has our protection gone so thin reaching to the very centre to affect the century old institution and the genealogical succession that give direction to a nation?

  18. ugyen tshering in the next post may say that the late PM had conferred with Chabda to assassinate the late King! All the evidences that surfaced in the narration in above story do not in any way suggest that PM would do that as ugyen tshering asserts. Did PM exercise command over the national armed forces for such treachery, officially? The statement “however, he could say, before he breathed his last, that he had always served his king and country faithfully and loyally to the best of his ability” does not show any guilt on the part of the PM. The world has shown much wisdom to blame the victims for the crimes they suffer.
    The fact is that he was known to be pro people and would usher in Democracy for Bhutan a generation before 2008… This is the version of the older folks much of whom has passed away.

  19. ugyen tshering in the next post may say that the late PM had conferred with Chabda to assassinate the late King! “If not, how did chabda know it to take action against him?” he may continue to debate. However, all the evidences that surfaced in the narration in above story do not in any way suggest that PM would do that as ugyen tshering asserts. Did PM exercise command over the national armed forces for such treachery, officially? The statement “however, he could say, before he breathed his last, that he had always served his king and country faithfully and loyally to the best of his ability” does not show any guilt on the part of the PM. The world has shown much wisdom to blame the victims for the crimes they suffer.

    The fact is that he was known to be pro people and would usher in Democracy for Bhutan a generation before 2008… This is the version of the older folks much of whom has passed away.

  20. Dear Kancha, dukpa kinley’s point is a fact. Instead of rebuking him, show some respect for speaking truth in favour of the Bhutanese inside and out of the country.

    His point in question “If a spiritual leader like the Dalai lama could not fulfill the wishes of his Tibetan refugees, it is unlikely that a bulldozer driver can give any respite to his pathetic group of controversial refugees.” This bears enough wisdom to explore the depth of the problem…