On December 17, 1907 when Bhutanese clergy, state officials, and representatives of the people unanimously elected Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck as the first hereditary King of Bhutan, it signalled the beginning of a new era in Bhutanese history.
This academic documentation of the significance of the National Day is what most Bhutanese are articulate about. In trying to find a meaningful analysis of the 111th National Day, some significance was found in Samtse.
When Samtse hosted the National Day celebrations for the first time in 1981, most of the people involved in today’s grand celebrations were not even born. Samtse was Samchi.
Through the visionary wisdom of His Majesty The Fourth King, Bhutan had just started the decentralisation process. The Fifth Plan was beginning the next year. In his address to about 20,000 people who gathered in Samchi, His Majesty outlined the Plan’s policies and strategies to the members of Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogchung, telling them that if the programmes outlined in the Fifth Plan were to be successful, it was necessary for all people to work hard and participate meaningfully in the implementation of development programmes.
The focus of the Plan was to make the dzongkhag self-reliant. Specific plans with the aim to make Samtse economically self-sustaining “in the shortest possible time, taking into account the local characteristic, potentials and needs” were shared. Samtse’s budget was Nu 204 million, more than three times the Nu 64.6 million in the Fourth Plan.
Given is a strategic location, Samtse was never isolated. It was the headquarters of five sub-divisional offices and also had a district commissioner as early as the 1950s when other dzongkhags were deep in isolation. The fertile land, proximity to markets in India and opportunities in horticulture and cash crops like orange, ginger and cardamom, Samtse was all poised for development. The dzongkhag is rich in mineral deposits.
Samtse was one of the fastest developing dzongkhags. It was the first southern dzongkhag to host a National Day celebration attended by His Majesty The Fourth King.
Exactly a decade later in 1991, Samtse was the host again.
If December 17 was celebrated as the National Day because it marked the ending of internal strife and instability with the election of the First King, the 84th National Day celebrated in Samtse in 1991 was significant in many ways. The celebrations came a year after the dzongkhag had faced activities in southern Bhutan that tried to undermine the security of the country. The 84th National Day was symbolic of unity.
In the face of uncertainty arising from the threat to security, the highlight of the National Day Royal address was on the importance of the Seventh Plan. It was about the importance of development and improving the living standards of the people, of promoting rapid socio-economic growth and ensuring balanced development.
All that the King asked from his people was their trust, continued support and dedication to achieve the national objective.
Samtse developed. Roads were constructed, industries established, and schools and institutions built and expanded. The dzongkhag saw dramatic development in all sectors.
A decade later, in 2002, Samtse was third time fortunate when it hosted the 95th National Day. The country was in the Ninth Five-year Plan. The government had allocated Nu 920.6M to make the dzongkhag economically self-sufficient, to strengthen the dzongkhag office and local governance, to expand basic educational and primary health, to preserve the national heritage and to encourage environmentally friendly balanced development among all the gewogs.
By 2010, when the National Statistical Bureau first started documenting annual Dzongkhag statistics, Samtse had 80 educational institutions. Nine grade II basic health units (BHU), three hospitals and 21 outreach clinics. 38 of the 73 manufacturing licences were operational and 377 service licences was in operation. The dzongkhag also had 8.5 kilometres of irrigation channel covering 753 acres of paddy land producing 6,266MT of rice. The dzongkhag produced 2.6M kgs of oranges and 763,00kgs of cardamom (in 2007). There were 2,900 improved breeds of cattle.
Samtse has transformed. “There is a difference of sky and earth when I first came here,” says Karma, who was resettled in Sangacholing a decade ago.
As of today, records with the NSB show that 99 percent of the houses in Samtse are connected with electricity. There are 108 educational institutions, 425 kilometres of farm road, 132 kms of gewog connectivity road, 72 health centres and 15 motorable bridges. The dzongkhag also boasts of about 29 functioning industries.
The prosperity and progress, what the Monarchs envisioned, is seen in the eyes of those who gathered for the Monday celebration. “The most remote gewog is now connected with roads,” says Man Bir Gurung of Norgaygang. The 60-year old farmer says Samtse Samtse has transformed beyond recognition.” “All we saw, those days in Samtse town, was horses and cattle.”
Samtse is also a living example of unity in diversity. Karma’s two former gups were from among the resettled community. Born in Haa and lived in Thimphu for most of his life, Karma was also encouraged to stand for the post of gup. “We are Bhutanese, not Haaps or Lhotsampas or Parops,” says Karma’s wife, Tshering. “We never felt Sangacholing as our second home. We are all one.”
The Doyaps, Lepchas, ngalongs or the Tamangs gathered in Samtse town cannot articulate the significance of the Gyalyong Duechhen, but it is most vivid in their appreciation of the country, the Kings and the fruits of progress, stability and unity. They need not read it in the books.
Dilip Ghalay from Khengpagaon took one whole day to get to Phuentsholing for trade and to purchase basic necessities. Today, it takes only an hour. “I spent my childhood and teenage carrying loads on my backs with my parents, but my children don’t have to,” Dilip Ghalay said.
The people of Samtse are lucky again. They will be celebrating the 111th National Day with His Majesty The King, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyaplo, His Holiness the Je Khenpo, Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, His Royal Highness The Gyalsey, members of the Royal family, the newly elected Prime Minister and dignitaries.
It is an opportunity for people like Dilip Ghalay and Man Bir to thank the Kings for the unprecedented development, peace and security they have brought to the country. “We came here to offer our gratitude to our beloved Kings for what they sacrificed for this great nation and pray for their long life,” says Man Bir.
Contributed by Ugyen Penjor
Publishing editor, Kuensel