Monday, August 8, 2022

The Magic Figure of One Million

Reading through the Kuensel’s INFOGRAPHIC page of 6th August, 2022, I was transported back to a period when something that did not ring true - but that which could not be verified - came to be accepted and endorsed as official.

Bhutan’s population during late 1960s and early 1970s was deliberately and officially stated as one million++. Accordingly, UN agencies presumed that Bhutan’s population would be two million by the year 2000 - based on the average annual increase rate of 2-3%.

When Bhutan carried out our national census in 2005, it was found that the population was merely 672,000++ – barely one third of the oft-repeated figure.

While on the one hand the severely shell-shocked United Nations Population Division had to laboriously recalculate Bhutan’s population for the whole period up to the year 2000, it was causing consternation among some Bhutanese bureaucrats and planners, including some UN agencies involved in development activities in the country.

The numbers simply did not tally - for our stated population size, we consumed less than 3/4th what we ought to. Similarly, our production in all areas was way too lower than they ought to be, based on our population figures. Donors and development partners kept insisting that there was serious mismatch in the numbers - to the point that they hinted that we were fudging the numbers! Our officials were adamant that they were presenting the absolute true picture - Koencho Soom and Lama Khenno and all that!

Obviously everybody was puzzled - but all remained uneering in the presentation of their numbers. Consternation reigned supreme!

But the burning question remains: WHY was the magic population figure of one million++ came to be quoted - when evidently the real number was perhaps less than one-third?

The truth actually is pretty funny - it finds its origins in an UNTRUTH. And the conjurer was supposedly none other than Bhutan’s most brilliant mind - the matchless Drukgyal Soompa - 3rd King of Bhutan.

For obvious reasons, His Majesty the 3rd King’s single minded and all consuming focus beginning mid 1960s was for Bhutan to gain admission to the UN as a Member State. It took him many years of maneuverings through murky waters to finally realize his dream. After having held observer status for three years, Bhutan was finally admitted to the UN on 21st September 1971, as its 128th Member.

Under orders from the Drukgyal Soompa, HRH Prince Namgyal Wanghuk became the first Bhutanese to address the General Assembly (GA) of the United Nations in New York. Exactly at 5PM GMT, His Royal Highness delivered Bhutan’s epochal address during the 26th Session of the UN’s General Assembly.

At long last, His Majesty the Drukgyal Soompa’s dream was realized. But what remain unknown are the many hurdles that he had to overcome during the long and arduous journey to the finish line. There were many detractors. Incredibly one of them told His Majesty that one of the qualifying requirements was that an aspiring State had to have a minimum population of one million people – a total UNTRUTH. Of the five requisite conditions to qualify to become a Member of the UN, this WAS, and IS NOT, one of them.

But the brilliant man that he was, the Drukgyal Soompa turned around and said; “Ofcourse we do have one million people in Bhutan”.

From that day on and until the census exercise in 2005, Bhutan’s population came to be misquoted at one million, and counting.

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