Dr DNS Dhakal, the Executive Chief of Bhutan National Democratic Party (BNDP) is currently in North Carolina (NC), USA to participate in a training program in the capacity of visiting faculty at the Duke University. Dhakal discussed on various contemporary issues with TP Mishra of Bhutan News Service, who also is based in NC. Excerpts:
What is the latest progress with your Non Resident Bhutanese (NRB) concept?
Presently I am focused at lobbying support in Nepal, India and inside Bhutan. NRB is a part of the solution of the Bhutanese refugee problem. In brief, I would say that we should consider NRB as our long-term campaign agenda.
Now that you are in the USA, you might have been in touch with the resettled Bhutanese folks. How have you been evaluating their challenges, struggle or progress in USA?
Frankly, I am not able to speak with as many of our people as I would have liked. I am here as a visiting faculty to participate in a training program at Duke University. You know well about the work pressure here in the USA. My understanding is that our people, as always, have started realizing that the third country resettlement is not a long-term solution. I have been telling this right from the beginning. Nevertheless, we have no option. We have to make best use of this opportunity and strategize our steps to survive and progress in this corporate culture while not forgetting roots back in Bhutan.
Has the third country resettlement program really weakened the call for democracy in Bhutan, as was assumed initially by many exiled Bhutanese leaders?
I have a clear-cut view on the issue. The movement will not die down following the resettlement process. Our folks have international exposures, will have opportunity to secure their financial back-ups, and the children will have access to modern education. Our support bases will strengthen further. Their love for the country and the community will deepen, for sure. There is a need to reconnect ourselves and work towards keeping the Bhutanese identity intact. That is our responsibility.
Why have the volume of advocacy campaigns from exiled leaders shrunk down after resettlement?
My understanding is that there are no activists’ programs at the moment. We are focusing and consulting with our support groups inside and outside the country. We have two issues at hand: One, repatriation with dignity and honor those refugees who wish to return to Bhutan and second, getting recognition by the elected parliament of Bhutan the resettled refugees, who do not wish to be repatriated, as non-resident Bhutanese. At the least, I expect that the campaign activities will heighten again.
You are in the USA at a time when there are two major conventions of two national level Bhutanese organizations in two different locations. At some point, resettled folks have been voicing for a united, single platform. What is your comment?
Let’s keep aside the differences and work together as one Bhutanese community. There might be a difference in the perception of scope of work but goal should not be different. We should always remember that we are competing with numerous communities that have arrived from around the world. I had said to the Assistant Secretary of State, Ms Salisbury, in my meeting with her at the State Department in 2007, that we do not believe being a burden to the refugee recipient countries. We are a resilient and vibrant community; we will try to compete in education, business opportunities and at work. To achieve this, we need to cooperate and assist each other. We will have to sort out our differences. I hope it will happen sooner than later.
How have you been evaluating the latest political developments in Bhutan?
Bhutan has let the cat out of its bag. At some point, the taste for democracy is deepening inside the country; internet is contributing towards that. It might be little early to say this but the king’s marriage might open up opportunities for genuine political reforms. In the past, the ruling elites diluted potential political threat by establishing matrimonial relationship. This time the King has gone outside the elite circle. It is an interesting time for Bhutan. In the next five to ten years we may see new political alignment for social and economic transformation.
Do you still believe that repatriation will ever take place?
Of course, repatriation is going to take place. The crux of the problem is the number. I am of the view that the international community has not undertaken the third country resettlement program without cutting a deal with Bhutan. The deal in my opinion is to repatriate with honor and dignity those Bhutanese people who will not seek third country resettlement. The caveat is the Bhutan may play its earlier game of categorization, claiming that not all the remaining refugees in the camps are “genuine Bhutanese”. That will be unfortunate for the country. I hope that the present king will seize this opportunity to settle the problem of Bhutanese refugees once for all, addressing the issues that we have been raising.
What is your recently formed alliance, with Rizal, RK Dorji and Balaram Poudel, doing these days? Why again your activities are based in Nepal, a politically traumatized country?
The relationship between Bhutan and Nepal is ancient and unshakable. The people to people relationship continues irrespective of what the state may do. Northern and eastern Bhutanese are as comfortable as any Nepalese citizen in Boudha. Therefore, there is no question for Bhutanese not taking help of Nepal at time of difficulties. Our cultural and spiritual heritages are deep in Nepal. We will consolidate our presence in Kathmandu, including the future activities of NRB.
The alliance has established a functional office in Kathmandu. This is to convey a message that we are together and committed for the establishment of inclusive democracy in Bhutan.
Does this alliance has a road map yet?
At present we are working on the four points agenda that we agreed upon. The next step will have to be further consolidation of the movement who are still outside the alliance. In the forum, we have agreed to disagree. Agreeing on a clear-cut roadmap would take time synchronizing modus operandi for political change in Bhutan. Nevertheless, we are committed to maintain one office in Boudha, bring out publication regularly in English/Dzongkha/Nepali and build rapport with the government of Nepal on behalf of the Bhutanese community.
Where do you see our struggle in ten years time from now?
A sustained struggle supported by active and powerful Diaspora spread around the world. Our goal is not only to establish inclusive democracy and dispensing justice to Bhutanese refugees but also to contribute towards socio-economic transformation of Bhutanese society. By default now we are placed in an advantaged situation. The country should not ignore this window of opportunity.