A national day celebration was a relatively local and obscure event; the 3rd King made it as we know it today. At Thimphu Changlingmethang, Crown Prince Jigme Singye Wangchuck, then barely 15, presided over the first nationwide celebration in 1971. As secretary to the 3rd King as well as speaker of the National Assembly, it fell on the immensely able Dasho Shingkhar Lam to address the crowd on the far-reaching intent of the 3rd King. Nearly half a century after that event, the national day has become a pivotal moment in our national life, as shown by the one held in Punakha dzong.

On a linguistic plane, the address was a tribute to His Revered Majesty’s (hence abbreviated to HRM) gift in oratory in the national language, Dzongkha. Its power of persuasion sprang from his inspirational delivery and his resonant voice but also from his increasingly literary Dzongkha with unexpected turn of phrases, apt idioms, and vivid articulacy. Speaking literally from the feet of the Zhabdrung’s image on four-storey tall thangkha, it was an impassioned and consummate address paying homage to the founder of the country and evoking the Zhabdrung’s iron-resolve to follow through to the end once he contemplated an action. HRM began his 45-minute address moment after he appeared out of the hallowed temple where the Zhabdrung is entombed as mardung chenmo (marchen), and where he went to offer his moenlam for the people and country, and for the two Kashos, or Royal Decrees, on education and civil service reforms.

HRM’s compelling national day speech will have a decisive influence on the minds of public servants and the people, and through them on the national path for our future. The speech might not be outdone ever for the profound change it seeks in the field of public service and administration, education system, and economy. It brought tears to some for the germ of an ideal era it sketched and lit hope in others of a more caring, courteous and diligent civil service. The speech left very few unmoved.

HRM’s speech set a variety of new directions for the country. It dwelt on various national themes including (a) a realistic but powerful vision of our future, (b) glowing optimism in the ability of the people and our bright future we have no choice but to build, (c) the unique destiny of this country with indelible imprints left first by Guru Rinpoche and then by the Zhabdrung, (d) a sober and accurate assessment of our civil service and our education system, (e) several unusual risks and advantages inherent in our geopolitical location, and the modest size of the country and population. 

It has been an abnormal year with our collective efforts directed at keeping the people safe from the menacing pandemic. Above all, the year has been extremely onerous for HRM who has been supervising personally both medical and non-medical responses to the pandemic throughout the country. It required regular, hectic, and risky travels. He has been an incomparable ‘volunteer’ taking risk to his personal health and giving up a great deal of family life. But his sense of boundless duty spurred wider social support and solidarity among the people.

HRM conveyed the warm sentiments he has about unity, cooperation, spontaneous sacrifice, and voluntarism that the people have shown. He expressed splendid appreciation to the Ministry of Health for their vital services: of treating Covid-19 cases and saving life, without losing even one. He gave credit to the shining courage of the frontline workers such as Armed Forces and Desuung. He paid tribute to HM the IVth King for renewing the spirit of commitment and morale of outreach workers by his visits to the southern borders, and for being the pillar-like support behind him in the service to the people. Looking ahead, HRM reiterated that we must give absolute collective support to the private sector and the people during this crisis to protect their well-being, hopes, confidence, and assured that we will win the Covid-19 battle by any means. 

Preoccupations throughout the year with overcoming the threat of pandemic would have worn out a lesser leader. That HRM laid out, even during such a year, the need for fundamental reforms in education and the civil service indicates how formidable HRM’s capacity is and how much he contemplates rigorously about betterment of this country and people.

Behind across-the-board reforms of the civil service and education HRM has envisaged lies his transformative perspective on several fronts: (1 ) that the country and the people should not be left behind, hampered as a developing country; (2) that we should be swift to change and seize opportunity when and where it is necessary; (3) that we can be multiple time prosperous; (4) that each of us as a Bhutanese can be, and has been, multiple times capable and knowledgeable; (5) that we should neither sink in the ocean of mediocrity nor take comfort in quantitative expansions. Reforms cannot be delayed any longer. 10 years is a long time in an era of fast international change, and such a duration can make considerable difference to the level of achievement if we become focused and aware of things that need to shift, HRM emphasized. 

HRM’s reflective analysis of the civil service conjured hope and confidence he always reposed in the civil service as the key permanent institution guarding the interest of this country and people, during changing elected governments. HRM urged that swift reforms in structures, laws, procedures, and norms of the civil service that can meet the needs of the future should be brought about, and that will require fundamental change at its root.   

As in the case of civil service, HRM has been consistent in his deep interest in the quality of education since he was Crown Prince. HRM said that future is revealed exactly in the quality of education.  Both for society and the individual, quality of education is of paramount priority. The current approach in education should be overhauled.   

For the stirring speech that blazed with a passion for accomplishment we heard on the national day, we must thank the fortune of Bhutan. Punakha dzong which has been occupied by many holy figures and wise statesmen and has witnessed countless rites and ceremonies, once again became a solemn site of new direction. So enormous is the magnitude of the new direction about the two reforms, we need everybody’s wholehearted contribution while those who discern the need of the future must lead. The welfare of every Bhutanese citizen and the whole state is dependent on the quality of civil service and education, which feed on each other.  If we as citizens and civil servants fulfil the momentous vista opened by the speech, this national day will never be effaced from the memory of posterity. 

Contributed by 

Dasho Karma Ura,  PhD


The Centre for Bhutan and GNH Studies, Zhichenkhar

PO Box 1111, Thimphu