Did you see the two-year-old baby tugging at its sleeping mother to wake her up? She had died of starvation on her trek back to their village. If you had seen the families of millions of people who had lost their loved ones to this pandemic, you would have also seen the pain and the suffering that follows its trail. Have you peered in their eyes to see the arrant hopelessness that dwells in their hearts?
Fortunately, due to the enlightened leadership of this country, we have been spared the trauma and the tragedy that follows this scourge. There is an air of tranquillity which is all pervasive. We are living in an extremely protected environment with a sense of security which only this country can give.
The damage and destruction wrecked by this pandemic is unparalleled in recent history. Global economies are in ruins and the financial markets have gone into a tailspin. Stimulus packages that the governments of various countries offered for its revival have failed to stem the tides of recession. Yet in all the chaos and turmoil that is swirling around us, we have remained imperturbably unaware of the hardships and privations which people have faced elsewhere. The audacity of this global contagion can never be downplayed because of the trail of desolation it leaves behind. Despite the government’s adoption of extreme measure for our protection and safety, Bhutan cannot insulate itself totally by creating an impenetrable bubble. But it can control and mitigate its impact through proper planning and execution. The risks can only be contained by motivating the task force at the ground level and making the public sufficiently aware of the dangers and the preventive measures. They say the mettle of a nation can only be tested in times of crises. Bhutan is facing that crises today, and facing it with confidence. The strength of this country and the ability of its people to confront such unforeseen calamities is consecrated in the unshakeable faith which the people have placed in their beloved King. He has won their hearts with his charm, and their trusts with empathy and compassion. His Majesty has galvanised the entire population into a nation of foot soldiers proudly marching behind his footsteps.
The steely resolve of the people of this country is the result of the resolute efforts of our King and his creative ideas. The effulgence of a new dawn began with the coronation of His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. It was a momentous moment of history which brought into focus the extraordinary gift of leadership and character possessed by the Druk Gyalpo. It also revealed the essence of the man: a person whose vision for the future was fuelled by his dreams and powered by his foresight. His Majesty could foresee the digital revolution changing the world. He could feel the urgency of revamping the education system with greater emphasis on science and technology and the need to strengthen the backbone of the country with good governance. Institutions like RIGSS were specifically created to impart to the bureaucrats a deeper understanding of their responsibilities. A militia of trained volunteers, who came to be known as De-Suups, the Guardians of Peace, were raised to support the government personnel in times of unforeseen disasters. The national health care system was further strengthened and given the additional task of preparing for epidemics and other unforeseen contingencies. These tasks were implemented with fierce urgency. We are prepared today only because of the measures taken yesterday.
Despite the hurdles the lockdown must have created, no one was allowed to suffer any extreme hardship. The garbage van invariably arrived on time. The sorely needed vegetables reached us just when our supplies started to dwindle. FCBL was mandated to supply all essential commodities to all people at all times, and they never lost sight of that credo. While we sleep comfortably in our homes, our heart goes out to the hundreds of FCBL workers, officials as well as fellow workers, who are toiling day and night to ensure that the vegetables are delivered to every household on time. Even the CEO and the directors of FCBL are lending a helping hand. They are all there, merrily eating and sleeping in the FCBL complex so that they are available for duty at all times. They voluntarily opted for these jobs: for them this is a lifetime opportunity to serve their country and their beloved King. No less is the contribution of the health workers who are spending sleepless nights to cover the tracks of covid patients and test thousands of suspects for the slightest sign of the disease. Then there are the De-Suups, who are seen everywhere, involved in all the multifarious activities. They are always there within easy reach to help the old and the feeble. They are there helping with medication and food deliveries and securing the borders against infiltrators and intruders.
For the homeless coming in from Jaigaon, the army built 6,000 apartments in record time. The army personnel are always at the forefront of any emergency that may arise. Only recently four of these fearless soldiers lost their lives while rescuing some people who were stranded in the midst of a river in full spate. They are the ones who are ever ready to make such sacrifices. While all these activities were going on at a hectic pace, the police force was busy ensuring compliance with their smile and polite words. The members of the task force heading the Covid -19 team were charged with the planning and execution of all activities, which must be undertaken to meet this challenge. They synchronised the entire gamut of the intricate and divergent aspects of these operations with clockwork precision. This is a team, comprising of the best brains the country can produce, nothing can come better. We are also fortunate to have a Prime Minister who is a doctor by profession. His knowledge and advice is an integral part of the drive by the government launched to contain the spread of the dreaded corona virus and he is carrying out that task with “surgical precision”. The way Bhutan has handled and contained this pandemic is a matter of pride not only for our own people but also for the international community.
We were quite apprehensive about the rumoured lockdown which was about to take place. When it did occur, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the logistics for supply of food and vegetables, to every household both in urban and rural areas, were already in place. When some of our friends from across the border telephoned to enquire about the lockdown, they were shocked to hear that no one was facing any hardship due shortage of food. The government had taken care of it. However, what they found amazing and unbelievable was the fact that the government had not only ensured uninterrupted supply of food and provisions for the people, they had also ensured that the stray dogs on the street did not go hungry. Things that we take for granted looks quite different from the other side of the table.
But the towering figure behind this story is that of His Majesty The King. It was his vision and foresight, which energised the people to reach out to one another and present a cohesive and united front. Whereas the Kidu of land went a long way towards alleviation of poverty, the Kidu of cash subsidy in the form of monthly allowances sustained the lives of thousands of nationals who had lost their livelihood. The compassion and empathy, which His Majesty bestowed on the people, percolated down to the lowest rung of the society. Just as they received it from the bountiful hands of His Majesty, they too felt obliged to offer it to their neighbours and to their needy countrymen. The sudden lockdown had deprived many of the opportunity to stock up on their immediate needs. It was heartening the see neighbours stepping up to share their provisions, ensuring that no one went to bed with hunger in their bellies. I was pleasantly surprised to see my own neighbours coming forward to offer me home cooked food and any other assistance that I may require.
His Majesty has enthused the nation with grit and determination and enabled them to meet these formidable challenges. The capability of this nation, which could launch its own satellites, can never be underestimated and the resolve of the people to confront this pandemic can never be undermined. His Majesty was always at the forefront. The frenetic pace of activity required His Majesty’s presence at diverse junctures. He was perpetually on the move, moving like the wind, from once place to another, just to ensure that you and I remain safe. His presence was the greatest motivating factor for the frontline workers and the greatest source of inspiration for the entire nation. During his speech His Majesty had pledged never to rule but always to serve, and today he has redeemed that pledge. Nothing stood in the way, not even the need to be present at the birth of Their Majesties’ second son. We can never recompense him for the sacrifices His Majesty has made, but we can fulfil his dreams with some of our own sacrifices.