December 9, 2006, the 20th day of the 10th month of the Fire Dog year. In an extraordinary moment of Bhutanese history, two Kings sat in the Throne room of Trashichhodzong and made a sacred transition. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, handed over the reigns of governance to his son and heir, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
One King had crafted his legacy. One King was to begin his destiny.
We, the citizens, were completely overwhelmed by the profundity of this royal gesture, finding ourselves on the precipice of events so momentous that all our lives were to change. Blinded by the glamour of coronations and celebrations, it took a while for the realisation to set in – we had received a powerful teaching on impermanence.
One of the most skilful means enlightened leaders use is to pull the rug from under our feet. In this intriguing phenomenon that is the human experience, we found ourselves stripped of the petty self-images that we had built for ourselves. We were forced to ask “If a King was King no more, who are we… what are we?”
This momentous event woke us up to the fact that we were privileged to be living in a fascinating time in Bhutan’s evolution. It was both the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter of Bhutanese history.
Ten years later – December 9, 2016, the 10th day of the Fire Monkey Year… It is a time for profound reflection. Age-old wisdom says: “If you want to see the future, look at the past.” And we hear the echoes of current wisdom: “The future of Bhutan is in the hands of the Bhutanese youth.”
In the context of nation building – as these philosophies converge – the past 10 years have culminated in a crystal clear message: “The future is now”. Since 2006, the future of Bhutan has been in the hands of the Bhutanese youth.
What does that mean for us?
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, signed in 2008, states: “His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo is the Head of State and the symbol of unity of the Kingdom and of the people of Bhutan.” The Bhutanese people have submitted to His Majesty The King – the Protector and Guardian of the Constitution – the mandate of being the upholder of the chhoe-sid (spiritual heritage) and protector of all religions, the “Fountain of Honour” with the authority to award titles, decorations and dhar, and the Fountain of Justice to grant amnesty, pardon and reduction of sentences.
Over the past 10 years, Bhutan has stabilised as a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy and emerged as a thought leader in the globally debated efforts to redefine the purpose and direction of human development. In other words, our small kingdom still dares to be different. His Majesty The King said: “That is what I mean by ‘forging our own path, our future, our destiny’.”
So what do we think about now, at another juncture of Bhutanese history? We would do well by reflecting on the Royal addresses over the past 10 years. In the resounding messages that have been repeated year after year, His Majesty The King has emphasised priorities for the way ahead. Without mincing words, His Majesty has brought us down to earth.
“The future is neither unseen nor unknown. It is what we make of it. What work we do with our two hands today will shape the future of our nation. Our children’s tomorrow has to be created by us today… So today would be the right time to seriously ask ourselves what there is for this generation to do. What is this generation’s duty in the history of our nation?
That tomorrow has been defined today:
“It has always been my prayer that we will all be united in our efforts to build a stronger nation so that, at the end of our lives, when we bequeath our country to our children, they will inherit a stronger nation in which all obstacles to their happiness and prosperity will have been overcome, and where we have created the conditions for the fulfilment of all their aspirations.”
His Majesty The King has also said that praising what we have already done will not bring new rewards. It is better to see what our weaknesses are, where we have not done very well, where we need to do better. So this anniversary is not a celebration of the past. It is an expression of hope for the future. The learning period is over. We now look forward to an era of planned growth in an environment of mature politics.
The essence of Bhutan’s long-term vision, as articulated by the reigning Monarch, is to ensure the “Sovereignty and Security of the country and the Well-being and Happiness of the people”.
Given the stable system of governance that we have today, the team of professionally trained public servants, an arsenal of amazing technology, and also given the invaluable lessons of the past and the broad frame of a national vision, how does this generation go about building a nation for the future generations?
The premise is that national goals do not change. But the way we achieve them must, depending on the evolving circumstances. In other words, we will require a fundamental change in thinking – an intellectual revolution – to rethink and to clarify the path to sovereignty and security, well-being and happiness.
So how would policy makers, planners, implementers translate such a vision into action? The first step would be to understand it in the context of national development. For example, how do we view it in the political, economic, and social perspective?
The political climate
Over the past decade we have seen a strong polity constructed, based on the Constitution, with His Majesty The King at the helm. In a global political environment of uncertainty, where democracy itself is under a microscope that is somewhat unfocused, Bhutan has steadily established the institutions and processes of democratic governance. And we have the longer range view:
Now, if we want our democratic system to work, if we want a democracy that will fulfil the aspirations of our people, then we must take the next step – we must adopt the ideals and principles of democracy. We must build a democratic culture. This period when democracy takes root is a slow process. It takes time. But this process is crucial for the ultimate success of democracy in our country.
The economic climate
The Royal perspective is that a vibrant democracy must be founded on a strong dynamic economy. Thus, one of our primary objectives is to be self-reliant, to achieve a measure of self-reliance that will make our growth sustainable and resilient. But the reality is that we must accept that our current weakness is our economy, and there is much to be done:
“How can Bhutan stand on its own feet? How can we make a good living? What can Bhutan provide that the world wants? How can Bhutan compete on equal terms? How do we overcome our great dependence on imports?”
His Majesty defined national wealth as human wealth – for Bhutanese people to strive to be the best, not just the best in Bhutan but among the best in the world. Monopolies and economic disparities should not be allowed. And there has to be synergy between prosperity and progress with the building of a strong private sector in the spirit of innovation, creativity and enterprise.
The social climate
The most consistent Royal message is a focus on the people and on the social cohesion that must cut across all generations, religions, regionalism and ethnicity. A national vision becomes real when youth are given the best education possible, people are united in their love for their country and in their efforts to secure, consolidate and hand over an even stronger nation to their children.
His Majesty The King defined Gross National Happiness as the social environment of a just, equal, and harmonious society, when people are able to live happy and secure lives.
There is a higher responsibility – not written in any legal document but instead enshrined in humanity and history – a natural responsibility and duty that we all must shoulder equally, irrespective of who we are. Of paramount importance to the strength of a nation is the ability of her people to live as one united family – a community in which interaction is marked by trust, understanding, and cooperation.
To me, natural responsibility means upholding values such as integrity, justice and compassion and, above all, living by that unwritten but absolute code of right over wrong, no matter what it is we are trying to achieve as individuals or as a nation. We must achieve everything as a united harmonious family. I truly believe that it would be a great service to the nation if, as individuals, we always treat each other with respect and dignity.
Bhutan’s greatest strength, throughout history, has always been the unity of spirit and purpose of the people that His Majesty The King described as “One Nation, One Vision”.
Dasho Kinley Dorji