Bhutanese need a selfless leader who will give up self-interest and be a sacrifice for the community: Madan Tamang
It is difficult to believe the news of the death of a person who was always there for you in any situation—be it personal, family, social or national. I found it hard to believe (I still do) when I first heard about Madan Tamang’s leaving us forever. It sank in gradually, and left a vacuum that will never be filled.
May 21, 2010 is a sad day for many Bhutanese in exile. We lost Madan Tamang, Darjeeling-based Gorkhali leader, one of our greatest well-wishers, supporters and a strong think-tank for the struggle of the Bhutanese refugees for their rights and for democracy in Bhutan.
Since I met Madan Tamang for the first time in 1995 in Darjeeling, he had been my mentor and a family friend, as he has been to many Bhutanese activists and leaders alike. He had become “Madan Daju” for many of us. Fate took a cruel turn, when an armed mob, descended on Madan Daju, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, and stabbed him to death in broad daylight.
I had heard a lot about him: a well-educated political leader who specialized in botany and knew orchids, rhododendrons and tea as much as he knew himself. I had heard about his visits to St. Joseph’s College’s Botany Department in Darjeeling to present a ‘slideshow’ and lecture on the flora of Darjeeling Hills. I didn’t see him then, but I did listen to people who were awed by his knowledge of the subject he had mastered on his own.
I was anxious and curious like everyone who goes to meet Madan Daju, as I later learnt. Every one of my subsequent visits with him was preceded by an anxiety and curiosity about what he would say and what I would learn.
Pratap Daju (of the Tarun Gorkha , who had piqued my curiosity and awe of Madan Daju even more) and I walked along the road by the horse stables in Chowrasta, the main thoroughfare in Darjeeling, and arrived at Madan Daju’s house which was, for a lack of better word, deceptive. It looked just like any other house in the area from the outside, but the simple yet elegant interior design was mesmerizing. His current captivating Gothic house on Gandhi Road was not yet built, but this house spoke volumes about the person who built it.
I did not get to talk much though, for Madan Daju always talked like there is never enough time to drive home all the truth. He talked about the Bhutanese movement for human rights and democracy – he knew a lot more about us that I did. He talked about the travails of the Gorkha community all over the world. He warned that the struggle we faced as a people was long and hard. I still recall him saying “There is no short cut.” He talked of simple yet novel ideas of sustaining a movement for a cause, any cause.
He had charisma and knowledge. He knew history and had a great vision about what the history of the Gorkhas should look like in the years to come. It was easy to tell that this man had a great vision which may be difficult for a common man to comprehend fully. I left impressed by what he said, confused why we did not have such leaders among the Bhutanese and wondering if we could live up to his dreams and expectations.
I had the honor and privilege of meeting him many times after that. He became my mentor of sorts who gave me advice, courage and support, both socially and personally. Believing that his vision should translate to the Bhutanese movement, I helped set up meetings between him and some Bhutanese political leaders, which at all times was useful for our leaders. With them, he was blunt about what was missing in our movement but offered unwavering support for any endeavor that would attempt to right the wrong. It was clear that he thought for the future of Gorkha/Nepali community all over the world, not just of Darjeeling.
As a member of the Support Organization for Bhutanese Refugees (SOBRE), Madan Daju was actively involved in providing support and solidarity to the Bhutanese movement, especially during the Peace March organized by the Appeal Movement Coordinating Council in 1996. As I saw his blood-splattered picture in the news recently, I thought of him patiently educating the Superintendent of Police and District Magistrate of Darjeeling on the righteousness of the Bhutanese movement for human rights and democracy; in particular India’s obligation as the largest democracy in the world to support it. He firmly believed that it was grave injustice for the the Indian and West Bengal government to bar the Bhutanese refugees from returning to Bhutan.
When you were around him, you knew you were with an exceptional person. Every sentence, every reprimand, every command had wisdom in it. One of the things he said repeatedly has never escaped me: “Bhai, hamro Gorkhali jaati ko neta chhaina. Niswartha, educated leader nai chhaina. Jaba samma testo neta umarera badauna sakdainau, hami le afno jatitwo, afno identity ko jageda garna sakdainau. Timi haru ko pani testo neta hunu parchha, jasley afno swartha sabai tyagera jati ko laagi balidaan dina sakchha” (We Gorkhalis do not have a leader. We do not have a selfless, educated leader. Until we can groom such a leader, we will not be able to save our identity and our community. Bhutanese too need such a leader who will give up self-interest and be a sacrifice for the community.”) I always hoped that Madan Daju will one day be that leader of the Gorkhas. It is unfortunate that the human race takes a little too long, usually until after death, to recognize such greatness.
I kept in touch with him through the years. I learnt that he was quite affluent but humble. The first time I returned from the US in 2004, I asked him what he wanted from the United States. He had a simple request: a pair of water-proof boots he could wear while working in his nursery or while wading through the rhododendron gardens in Sandakphu, because he could not get good ones in India. He had them on when I went back in 2009.
He came to my wedding in 2004 in Kalimpong for a few hours, before rushing to another wedding the same day in Siliguri. He made it to funerals of folks he had met. He made time to just stop by. He had a way of making you feel like you were his relative.
Madan Daju was also a real estate mogul of sorts and was into construction. He once told me, “Hari, construction, architecture is an art. You need to love it to be able to do it well. You need to have a passion.” He spoke of the ‘last project’ he had in mind: he wanted to build a grand residential complex on the forested slopes next to his Gothic house on Gandhi Road, replete with a swimming pool, a gym, a community space for the residents, and a playground for children. He was a man of big dreams and big thoughts. Pettiness irritated him.
I saw him for the last time in April 2009 when he came for lunch at our house. There was an election fever raging in India. Jaswant Singh of the BJP was contesting from Darjeeling. I asked him what he thought of it. He said, “Hari, Jaswant Singh gateeelo mula ho. Tara hamro baari ko mula haina. Arkai ko bari ko mula ho. Hami le hamro bari ma gateelo mula falauna parchha, taba po garba garna milchha.” (Jaswant is a great man, but he is not one of ours. We need to have our own great man and then only can we be proud.) I did not tell him what I thought, but I knew he was ‘our bari ko gateelo mula,’ our great man, and we were proud of him. We let politics alone and he talked about the house he was building at Uttarayon, a residential complex in Siliguri. He talked about his son, Sanjyog, who lived in Siliguri and ran the online part of his business. He talked about his three years old grand daughter who wanted him to drop her to school when he was visiting her in Siliguri. He was a fearless leader in public, and he was a loving grandpa in private who melted at the thought of his son’s little girl.
Many people will say Madan Daju was arrogant, that he was haughty and proud. I will agree that he was proud – of his achievement, his courage but he was also proud of others who were fearless, courageous and hard working. He admired commendable qualities in people, and showed it not by praise but by his unwavering support and constructive criticism. He did not tolerate irresponsibility and tardiness. He did not tolerate duplicity and what he called “kaptipana.”
I called my mom soon after he was killed on the street of the land he loved, by the very people he fought for all his life. She said, ‘naani, ke garnu, satru laagi halyo, tero sathi lai,” (Child, what to do, the enemies descended on your friend) and sobbed. She had only met him once, but when she said that, I thought Madan Daju’s enemies were the enemies of the Gorkha/Nepali community around the world. Madan Daju was not someone I would call simply a friend – he was a pillar of strength on whom me and my family relied to a great extent. The Bhutanese peace march relied to a great extent on him in 1996. He was someone from whom the Bhutanese in exile have received a lot of support. One would hope that his fearlessness, courage, straightforwardness, persistence, and dedication to the cause of the Gorkhas would translate into unity among the leaders that have so far tried to one-up each other, exploiting the tolerance and simplicity of the people.
In Madan Daju’s murder, Darjeeling lost a great leader the likes of whom may not come for a long time. We Bhutanese lost a great supporter and a well wisher. There were those who were in to for name and fame. He was in it for truth.
May his soul rests in peace. We will miss you, Madan Daju!
(Based in New York City, the author be reached at: [email protected])