Three years have lapsed since the ‘democratic’ constitution was promulgated after much fanfare and ceremony. Actual change, as the appearance suggested then, hasn’t yet come under the fifth King, Jigme khesar Namgyal Wangchuck. The Samtenling directive, connected to the fourth king’s palace, is still pervasive. And, the fundamental human rights enshrined in the constitution are still denied to the citizens.
The three major ethnic communities in Bhutan are the Ngalongs of the west, Lhotshampas of the south and Sharchops of the east. From 1972 to 1990, the share of top positions in government belonged first to the Ngalongs, followed by the Lhotshampas and Sharchops. After the rebellion by the Lhotshampas in 1990s, the position changed slightly. Ngalongs continued to occupy the top slot. The Sharchops leapfrogged to second place, relegating Lhotshampas to last position. Influential posts including the chief of army, chief of police and Gyalpoi Zimpon still go to the Ngalong community.
Prior to the promulgation of the ‘democratic’ constitution of 2008, a change was expected, but it was not to be. What we are seeing in Bhutan now is ethnic discrimination just as in the earlier times. The fifth King, too, is giving more importance to the Ngalong community. He gave away influential positions of the Gyalpoi Zimpon and Dronyer to the Ngalongs. This assertion doesn’t mean that the Ngalongs occupy all the elite positions. A handful of Sharchops are also in high positions, but they don’t owe their position to partiality or discriminatory policies. They have reached where they have based entirely on their merit and hard work. In the lower rung of the bureaucracy, army, police, business and other sectors, the Sharchops and the Lhotshampas, however, continue to dominate.
Many Bhutanese assumed that the western region had prospered more in comparison to other regions because the capital is situated in west. However, after three decades of observation, the basis for such deduction seems unfounded.
The neglect of the development in other regions is deliberate and the result of the discriminatory policies of the Samtenling directive. The government receives large funds for development from international donors and India. Where do those billions promised in each successive five-year plans to development projects to eastern and southern regions of Bhutan go, and will continue the same trend in future? For example, the Kurichu Hydropower Project, which has the potential to generate over 1000 MW, was reduced to a 45 MW plant. The government makes a big deal of having established this project in the east, whenever the question of development in the eastern region is raised.
To mention a rather dark-humoured incident that brings to the surface this sectarian attitude at the very top in Bhutan – during the general elections of 2008, gup Hopola, from Bartsham, Trashigang, who had served the queens for years, when asked by Queen Dorji Wangmo who he had voted for, frankly admitted that he had voted for Jigmi Thinley’s party as he thought that this party would serve the country best. Ashi Dorji Wangmo became very angry and said that Sharchops should never be trusted, definitely she had expected him to vote for her brother, Sangay Nidup’s party. Hopola was immediately sacked.
The fury of the fourth king against the Lhotsham and Sharchop communities for rebelling against the Royal Government of Bhutan in the 1990s hasn’t subsided even now. Sons and daughters of many Lhotshampas and Sharchops are denied security clearances and citizenship identity cards. They are denied opportunities in further studies and access to many welfare schemes that are available to other Bhutanese. I may be wrong, but so far I have not heard a single case of such denial to western Bhutanese. The denial of security clearances, better known as non-objection certificate, and citizenship has been the main policy of the fourth king Jigme Singey Wangchuck to satisfy his anger. On this issue, even the Members of Parliament are helpless, despite it being one of major problems affecting their constituencies.
The only person who can rectify this is the fifth King. We are happy that many vulnerable sections of society are receiving kidu from him. An overhaul of this obnoxious policy by the King would be a great kidu for the general public. Ex-Dzongda Kado, during a National Assembly session of 1970, had remarked that the government’s policies are similar to horse dung. From outside, it looks very smooth, but enclosed inside is full of waste. His observation of government policies of that time is no different than the policies of the present government, indeed.
The struggle by the Druk National Congress (DNC) and also the Lhotshampas has not much to do with the institution of monarch. The DNC’s struggle is to empower the Bhutanese people, ensure freedom and democratic rights and responsibilities under a written constitution, and to strengthen the sovereignty of the country. Likewise, the Lhotshampas have struggled to demand reinstating of their citizenship rights. The fourth king, who is ruling the nation from behind the scene, is solely responsible for the political crisis that ensued thereafter. Instead of putting an end to the crisis, he himself had created in first place by abdicating the throne leaving the crisis afresh as it is.
Now, the responsibility lies with the King to end the outstanding political crisis and break the adherence to the Samtenling directive. As to others, the DNC has high expectations from the fifth King. The discriminatory policies and the non-issuances of citizenship identity cards, and security clearances were the hallmark of the Samtenling directive. An overhaul of this will bring immense benefits to the people and the country. In addition, the respect for the years-old monarchy is going to increase more. Time has come to initiate a new directive from the Khesar’s palace – Lingkhana directive. Sooner the better.
(Dorji, who is President of the Druk National Congress, has been leading the strategic coalition formed by the party with Bhutan People’s Party, Bhutan National Democratic Party and Human Rights Council of Bhutan. The article which was first carried by the Bhutan Today, a bimonthly bulletin of the Dorji’s party, has been reproduced for readers of BNS.)