Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hail To The Modern World’s Most Tested Monarch

Today is November 11, 2014. More significantly, it is the 59th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, IVth Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan. Numerous celebrations are being planned around the country to honor the nation’s and the modern world’s most tested Monarch. Sadly, I will not be fortunate enough to participate in the celebrations because, even as I write this, I am camped by a dusty farm road somewhere in the wilderness between Yadi and Chaskhar in Mongar, Eastern Bhutan.

On this happy occasion, I am trying to attempt to compose an article to pay tribute to my King but the conditions are not the most idyllic! I am distracted by a cacophony of bird calls - three of which I can recognize - those of the Collared Owlet, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler and White-crested Laughing Thrush. Even worse, the monstrosity called Bolero - an Indian SUV - keeps screeching past my campsite - spewing dust and smell of burnt rubber. To top it off, my PowerBook battery is about to run out and Yadi town is experiencing a power outage. And I remember that my headlamp had already been flashing out three short red blinks in quick succession - indicating that it is running out of juice too! Way to go!

This is a most tumultuous setting in which to compose a tribute to a beloved King and yet, perhaps, this is most fitting. For, this is a King who has lived, and survived, all the tumultuous phases since his coronation. And there have been many such times. Suffice it to say that His Majesty has fulfilled His duties to the hilt - and some more. He has overcome every single challenge thrown His way - to preserve the nationhood of this country - His most important and challenging duty. Therefore, it is perhaps proper, and appropriate, that we honor Him for not having failed in His duty - rather than for performing it. After all, accolades are offered to those who perform beyond their duties, not merely for performing it.

Few perhaps understand what it would have taken to “preserve the nationhood of this country”.

Bhutan is a small landlocked country with neither economic power nor military muscle and with a population size comparable to that of a small Indian gully. Even worse, it is wedged between two of Asia’s most fractious nations of proven atomic capability and with competing ambitions for regional dominance. Bhutan’s geographical positioning as a buffer state (supposedly) between these two giants makes our position even more perilous.

Bhutan’s positioning as a buffer state between China and India is most often spoken as something of an advantage - in Bhutan’s favour. Sadly, not many understand that therein lay our vulnerability! This is where I am stuck by a sense of wonder - at the skillfulness and the political and diplomatic finesse with which our monarchs dealt with the giant to the North as well as to the South. While Tibet and Sikkim got selectively gobbled up by China and India, Bhutan to this day remains an independent state - all thanks to the superior minds and statesmanship of the Wangchucks. During this occasion of celebration and merry making, let us give ourselves a moment of quiet and stillness, close our eyes and contemplate: can we fathom even a fraction of what it would have taken our Kings to “preserve the nationhood of this country?” I doubt it.

Big and powerful nations such as the US employ economic might and military muscle to dictate their terms on other less powerful nations. If economic sanctions do not work, they carpet-bomb the erring states into submission. The powerful nations of this world are back to the primeval ways - smash and grab. Rich and powerful nations have it easy.

By contrast, for small poor nation states such as Bhutan, without the benefit of military muscle or economic might, the task is more difficult. We have to depend on more subtle and civilized ways to fend off the ever-present threat to our nationhood from colonialist designs of more powerful nations. We have to depend on our guile, craftiness, shrewdness, intelligence, sense of anticipation and diplomatic skills, to navigate our way out of the many entrapments laid out on our path.

If Bhutan today survives as a proud, independent state and Bhutanese as a race, we owe it to our successive Monarchs who have been selfless and vigilant in the discharge of their duties. Those of us with a sense of history know that our IVth Druk Gyalpo remains the most tested, but no less credit is due to our past Monarchs. Therefore, on this auspicious day, let us pay homage to the Wangchuck Dynasty as a whole and His Majesty the IVth Druk Gyalpo in particular, for the many silent battles he fought, and won - unknown to his subjects.

May our Kings live long and continue to direct our future.


  1. Palden Drupka Gyelo! Palden Drupka Gyelo!! Palden Drupka Gyelo!!!

    Well written my friend, and have a wonderful trip.

  2. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck took Bhutan in the path of modernity. Long live the King.