The government’s Rising East policy has come under the scanner of the political parties with only one of the four parties partially supporting the initiative.

To take ownership, the government recently formed an Eastern Development Committee comprising of four cabinet ministers hailing from the east. This has no gone well with the political parties.

The opposition has raised serious objections against the initiative calling the programme “regionalistic, discriminatory and divisive, and in direct violation of the Constitution”. The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa, the most vocal among the political parties, branded it discriminatory to gain short-term political mileage. It asked the government to refrain from resorting to such tactics.

It is normal to see criticism against government’s policies in a democracy.  Some come with genuine concerns when policies go wrong and some for the sake of opposing. There is a healthy debate being generated now on the issue. It is good for democracy. The issue also seems to be politicized with good reasons.

If the government’s policy is political in nature, it is wrong and political parties will make noise. If the policy is popular with the people and the government’s has a strategy to develop a region that has not kept up with others, they should go ahead without any hesitation. A good policy should not be derailed because of party politics.

The truth is eastern Bhutan needs to develop. Like the politicians were quick to point out, balanced regional development is the cornerstone of Bhutan’s development philosophy. That’s is why we have equal representation in the Parliament and that political parties would be required to ensure regionally balanced development.

Eastern Bhutan has developed a lot, but not as much as other regions. This is because our leaders have not neglected the region. There are hurdles. The topography, the distance and other factors have impeded development. In the meantime, the population is dwindling. To develop a place, we need infrastructure, land, and access to market among others. No amount of commitment can overcome this.

Notwithstanding the hurdles, if a government can come up with ideas and initiatives, they should be welcomed and encouraged. Eastern Bhutan is a big vote bank. If the voters appreciate government’s policy that centres around people’s development, there is no reason for stopping them.

Those opposing the initiative have a strong reason. Three years have passed since the government took office. When the initiatives are not implemented or left in the last stage of the reign, it will raise eyebrows. It is not only eastern Bhutan. What about our northern districts? In places like Lunana, people are still so backward that they are embarrassed to consult the health assistant for certain diseases.

There is pressure from people to decentralize development so that places like Thimphu and Paro can be decongested. There is no politics here. They come from practical reasons.

While the debate goes on, the government should be aware that despite the escalating pressures, Bhutan should not lose the approach to regionally balanced development.

The DNT stated that the policy is purely a “direct and extremely malicious attempt” to identify a large voting bloc using language and regional identity. “It will only be a matter of time before this degenerates into religious or ethnic blocs across all activities.”

The Rising East programme is an initiative to give special attention to eastern dzongkhags to accelerate economic development. The government, among others, promises to fast track all tourism projects in the east and prepare a special international marketing package for the eastern dzongkhags.