In a span of one year, two books came to my reading shelve – one came from Bhutan hand delivered to me by a visiting official, another came from Nepal, distributed in the US for sale promotion.
Om Pradhan, a former minister and diplomat for Royal Bhutan government published a book ‘The Roar of Thunder Dragon’ in 2012. The book is somehow a royal version of the lhotsampa serving in high offices of the Royal Government, beginning his career under the tutelage of his mentor, Prince Namgyal Wangchuk. Though a son of a commissioner of southern Bhutan, Om Pradhan seems to have little knowledge of that ethnic group to which he belong by blood. His father, Jhullendra Bahadur Pradhan had set up his office in the border of Assam and Bhutan, in order to settle people in the virgin land of south eastern Bhutan. People of Neoly talk about his official residence as ‘Neoly Kothi’, now in ruins in the Assam side of Indo-Bhutan border.
Hari kumar Chhetri, a former diplomat and foreign service officer of Royal Government of Bhutan wrote “Reminiscence; petition and politics” published in Nepal in 2013. Having begun his career under the longest serving foreign minister, Dawa Tshering, Hari Chhetri has a long time experience of working in Bhutanese embassies in Delhi, Kuwait and in New York.
In the following discussion, attempt to find similarities and contrasts in the writing of these two senior government officials of Southern Bhutan, Om from Samdrup Jongkhar and Hari from Samchi, has been made. It appears to most readers that these two loyal servants have seen the polity of Bhutan through different set of eyes and obliged to understand it with different purpose. Yet, a striking sense of similarity in their writing can be read between the line.
Om Pradhan evidently considers himself to be of noble descent and boasts of living closely with the Royal family of Bhutan Durbar. Of course, he received that patronage by virtue of being the son of commissioner of the south who was loyal enough to protect the south-eastern border of Bhutan with Assam. Jhullendra Bahadur Pradhan was also a favorite officer of the royals so much that he articulated to crush the 1953 Satyagraha movement in Sarbhang, ordering to fire at the demonstrators. Hari, on the other hand is the son of a layman, a farmer who knew the importance of education for his children.
Hari Chhetri’s book is centered around the famous (or rather infamous!) petition that was submitted to King Jigme Singye Wangchuk in 1988 by representatives of southern Bhutan seeking redress from the highest court of appeal. He sincerely have expressed his active and productive participation in drafting the petition, which he claims was not an underground exercise. Obviously, the focal person of interest here is Tek Nath Rizal, who as the Royal Advisory Counselor, was one of the signatories and main person to petition the King. A vivid description of how the idea of writing petition came into being and how they met every afternoon at TN Rizal’s residence for the purpose is laid down. Whether or not some agree, names of those senior government officials living in Thimphu, can be seen as associates to the idea of petitioning. Thus, Om Pradhan is mentioned here, in two of the meetings at TN Rizal’s quarter. Achyut Bhandari’s office was initially used to meet and discuss the draft petition.
Om Pradhan in the landscape of petitioning…
The tone with which Hari Chhetri mentions Om Pradhan’s presence in the meeting at TN Rizal’s is rather of mistrust and suspicion. Om mentions of his going to Rizal’s place the first time and claims complete ignorance of the ensuing discussion. But, he again takes the pride of informing the group of his sincerity and obligation to tell King about what transpired, before he leaves for Beijing.
It is at this point, according to Hari, that things fell apart before actually making any sense of petitioning the sovereign. TN Rizal is blamed for being very abrasive and impulsive to react without weighing the words and not knowing to handle any unintended consequence.
According to Hari, Om played a sly role of informing the King next day about the petition, but acted as an interpreter to TN Rizal, allegedly twisting the sense and purpose for which the petition was being developed. Om probably had misinformed King of what Rizal sincerely tried to convey. Equally possible that Rizal became overwhelmed by his gut to tell the king what was not necessary then.
Thus, for those of us who lived far from Thimphu, this event of audience with the King by his two trusted Lhotshampa servants for the purpose of putting grievances, is distraught with chicanery and megalomaniac attitude.
While Om Pradhan claims that he had not set foot in Rizal’s residence any time before, Hari reveals an unstated fact of Rizal’s soft corner for Om Pradhan. He further writes: Om Pradhan had advised Tek Nath Rizal to include Subarna Lama in the petition writing coterie (page 17). This gives us the reason to speculate a tacit understanding between the two, but equally competing each other for any favor from the King, whenever chanced.
It is shamefully trivial for both writers to mention of the kind of favoritism Pradhan and Rizal sought from the King or other royal family members. Om Pradhan is resentful of Rizal’s ambitious plan to be the minister, which Rizal is said to have asked for one representing South. His attempt to soil Rizal’s face is notable here: Tek Nath Rizal asked for a large government workshop across BOD petrol pump in Thimphu. Hari is not far behind to talk of Rizal asking favor from the king, particularly in the context of petitions he wrote for Rizal on different occasions. The one he asked for was a round building in Phuntsholing. Om Pradhan himself confess of his securing land in Simtokha because of his association with Prince Namgyal Wangchuk. The line speaks: When I showed the land to Prince Wangchuk, he immediately granted 30 acres in the area. ( page 86). Exhibiting more royal affinity, he writes of HM King commenting, “If others had been allocated land in the area and they owned them, then Why couldn’t Om?” referring to the King’s benevolence showered upon him.(page 87).
A system of giving away gift by the King definitely exists in Bhutan, and that applies to those trusted servants. Both Om Pradhan and Tek Nath Rizal were invariably the trusted ones. The giving away of soelra (the gift) by the King is customary as can be seen even today in social media the elated recipients of such royal gift demonstrating childish.
Well, coming back to the purpose of this writing, one can be certain that civil servants in upper and lower rung, were (are?) deeply fissured due to differential way of using their service to the palace or for public delivery. The fissures are apparently more wider in the higher echelons than in the lower.
Both the writers have sufficiently mentioned the cue to this kind of fractured bureaucratic structure, making one group more powerful than the other according to the needs.
Integration was likely a difficult choice of policy, whatever may be the motivation factors introduced. For Om Pradhan, integration of Nepali speaking southern Bhutanese was well-intended and implemented having sufficient consultation with the people. While the king wanted to make sure the southern Bhutanese are not alienated from the national sphere, some misgivings on the part of district and sub-divisional officers aroused offensive. Both the writers have taken integration not entirely in a cutting-edge criticism, but Hari Chhetri has offered more valid judgment against the hasty plan to integrate southerners into the national life of Drukpa heritage.
According to him, integration cannot just be accomplished with physical attire or appearance. It is more a matter of heart and a long term strategy to bind the diverse groups in to a single thread of inclusive nationalism. He suggests: What would have better met the national imperative of unity and harmony was the fostering of a general environment allowing for all to feel comfortable wearing whatever they felt was appropriate and in speaking whatever language they felt comfortable without making them feel any less Bhutanese for it.
Talking about the matter of using gho and kira, Om Pradhan writes: Those heads of households that I met were agreeable to adopting the gho and kira as the national dress of southern Bhutan. (page 153) The statement could well be debated, for Om Pradhan talking to commoner of southern Bhutan (a lhotshampa) is quite a rare thing to imagine, given his seat at the high echelons of the bureaucracy.
It can be well recollected, that a bilingual booklet(Miri-puen-sum) for learning Dzongkha was developed for the Nepali speakers, with general translation of common words in Dzongkha to Nepali. The booklet was signed in the foreword by Dasho Tek Nath Rizal as Royal Advisory Counselor, calling for a consensus to learn Dzongkha by all lhotshampa, signifying that people’s representatives from the south accepted and encouraged the use of national language. So, no ethnic bias exist from their side in language learning. However, both the writers have failed to mention this important learner friendly booklet, while writing about the national language. Om Pradhan seems to throw cold water at other Lhotshampa civil servants for not knowing Dzongkha fluently or even not trying to learn, buttressing his own caliber to communicate in Dzongkha on top of anything else. Both Om and Hari have not pointed out the fallacy of traditional dzongkha learning by memorizing the text, short of trained teachers and enough bilingual or translated printed materials to offer by the Dzongkha Development Division in the Department of Education. And, Om expects all Nepali speaking southern Bhutanese to speak Dzongkha in his fashion, without being given any thing to read.
For Hari, the hasty nature of attacking on the language of an ethnic group for promoting the national language was to out rightly obliterate the long cherished tradition, culture and customs of ethnic Nepali of southern Bhutan. Deliberately, Om Pradhan seems passive about provoking the ethnic and linguistic sentiments of southern Bhutanese, when Nepali was banned from teaching in some southern schools. He, however, accepts, “….this action obviously resulted in political and ethnic overtones as such a deliberate move in any country or society would.” And, instead of fostering integration, it did invite a lot of criticism for Bhutan from world human rights groups.
On page 96, Om Pradhan mentions about NA members from Nganglam and Decheling speaking fluent Assamese language. If that is the case, Om and other ‘dasho’ and ‘lyonpo’ should not be envied by the popular use of Nepali language by its native speakers-the lhotshampa people.
To be continued…….