The Egalitarian Ruler

Her Majesty the Royal Grand Mother, Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck wrote in Kuensel in 1972: ‘TIME and again history has proved that when a Nation faces a crisis or a period of radical changes, it also produces the soldier or statesman to meet the new situation. In His late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Bhutan was fortunate to have such a man to guide the country during a period of transition and development.’

1928 – His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck was born on May 2, 1928, in Thruepang Palace in Trongsa. At the age of seven, he studied at Thinley Rabten under Lopon Tashi Tshering. At the age of 15, he was appointed as Trongsa Droenyer.

1948 – The Crown Prince, HRH Jigme Dorji Wangchuck studied in Kalimpong for one year with a private tutor, Mr. Frank Ludlow, and later he visited the United Kingdom for six months.

1949 – Menon’s report dated August 20, 1949 ‘the constitution of Bhutan has up to now been that of a feudal hierarchy… His eldest son, the Maharaj Kumar, obviously of strong character, was helping very much in bringing about this change. If these developments continue one may expect to see Bhutan becoming stronger and more unified in the future.’

1951 – The Crown was appointed as Paro Penlop at the age of 22.

1952 – His Majesty married Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck, the younger daughter of the late Deb Zimpon Sonam Tobgye Dorji and Rani Chuni Wangmo.

1952 – In March 1952, he was enthroned as the Third King of Bhutan in Punakha Dzong.

1953 – As a patron of Arts and Crafts, His Majesty instituted Lhazo (painting), Shingzo (carpentry), Parzo (carvings), Jinzo (sculpture), Serzo ngulzo (goldsmithing and silversmithing), Thagzo (weaving), Tshemzo (embroidery), and Dozo (masonry) revived and flourished among the thirteen arts of Zorig Chusum.

1953 – His Majesty shifted from Bumthang and Trongsa to Thimphu as the capital city of Bhutan.

1953 – His Majesty said,‘Until now, there is no any form at national level which enables us to collectively discuss issues of national interests.  Therefore, it is considered as most important to have such a forum if the public welfare is to be promoted and the country developed streamlining the Dzongkhag Administrations.  In view of this, His Majesty the King is pleased to command that the forum called the National Assembly of Bhutan (Tshogdu) be formed as from today, comprising the Representatives from the Government, Monks and the Public.’

1954 – His Majesty embarked on several state visits to India during the years 1954, 1961, 1968, 1970 and 1971. These important state visits contributed to the strengthening of bilateral diplomatic ties and further deepened the friendship between Bhutan and India.

1954 – His Majesty said, ‘the tax anomalies of the past and also establish a uniform system so as to bring about complete equity in taxation.’ Monetization of tax was implemented in Trashigang in 1954.

1958 – Emancipation of serfs.

1958 – Enactment of the Citizenship Act of 1958.

1958 – Lyonchhen Jigmi Palden Dorji was appointed as the first Prime Minister of Bhutan.

1958 – Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru visited Bhutan. He addressed that ‘The people of Bhutan are sturdy and attractive and rightly very jealous of their independence. In fact, the rulers have not welcomed any outsiders. I make it clear to you that our only wish is that you should remain an independent country choosing your own way of life and taking the path of progress according to your will. At the same time, we too should live with mutual goodwill. We are members of the same Himalayan family and should live as friendly neighbours helping each other. Freedom of both Bhutan and India should be safeguarded so that one from outside cannot do harm to it.’

1959 – The first Cabinet Members was formed which comprised of ‘Dorji Lopon, Prime Minister, Chief Secretary, Zimpon nam – Jagar, Zeoda, Pungnyer Tshering, Dzongpon of Mongar, Dzongpon of Lhuentshe.’ (The year may be in 1958 and not 1959)

1959 – The Thrimzhung Chhenmo was debated from 1953 and it was enacted in 1959.  The National Assembly recorded, ‘Keeping in view the welfare of the general public, His Majesty the King enacted the National Law (Thrimszhung) (Ka) (Ma), which was scrutinized by the members of the National Assembly. This would be made available to all Dzongdags. In this connection, His Majesty was pleased to command that all members should scrupulously conform to the above law.  It was also informed that the provisions not covered under the above law would be enacted and framed by His Majesty.’

1961 – His Majesty said, ‘DANTAK started work on the road linking Samdrupjongkhar with Trashigang in 1961 and on the Gelephu-Trongsa road in 1962… Subsequently, the DANTAK took up the construction of the Simtokha-Wangduephodrang road and also widened the Confluence Paro- road, besides constructing the Paro-Drukgyal Dzong road. The total length of roads constructed in Bhutan so far, including the Paro-Haa road, the Wangduephodrang-Trongsa road, the Trongsa-Trashigang road and the Gelephu-Sarpang road, comes to approximately 915 kilometres’ addressed to Tsongdu on 15th November 1969

1961 – Simtokha Rignay Institute for Dzongkha and Jogyig under HH Dilgo Khyenste Rinpoche was instituted.

1961 – The first Thrimpon and Rabjam were appointed in Trashigang. The transfer and appointment of Thrimpons took place in 1967.

1962 – Ashi Tashi Dorji recalled, ‘…through the warm support and great kindness of the Australian Government and Senator Gordon, Bhutan was accepted as a full member of the Colombo plan in 1962.’

1962 – His Majesty said, ‘Our 525 telephone connections enable us to talk to distant places in our country and also to people in India. This has not only helped in the efficient and smooth running of the administration, but has also been of great help to the public’ informed Tsongdu on 15th November 1969

1963 – Appointment of Gups and administration of Oath.

1964 – Dasho Tshewang Dorji was appointed as the first Gyaltsi Khalowa.

1965 – Don Bosco Technical School was established in May 1965 by Salesian Father Phillip Geraldo from Italy.

1965 – During the inaugural of Yangchenphu Public School, His Majesty said that ‘I think our new beloved school is going to be one of the jewels of the future of Bhutan or at least we should make it one of the real jewels of the Thimphu valley’.

1965 – Kuensel is published.

1965 – His late Majesty said, ‘Representative institutions like the National Assembly and the Royal Advisory Council have been established and strengthened in order to give the people a decisive say in the affairs of the country’

1965 – Royal Bhutan Police was established.

1965 – His late Majesty said, ‘“For the speedy development of our country, it was considered necessary to develop air communications. Paro was found to be the most suitable place for the construction for an airfield. As such, land was acquired from the people of Paro District and construction work on the air-strip was started in 1965.’(Royal Address to Tsongdu on 15th November 1969)

1965 – During the inauguration of the Public School in Kanglung, Trashigang, His Majesty said, ‘In the past, many of our boys were sent to India and other countries for higher studies… We have, therefore, decided to educate and train as many of our boys as possible within our country.’

1967 – His Majesty established the first indigenous dispensary in June 1967 at Dechencholing under Drungtsho Pema Dorji.

1967 – Jungshina Power Plant, ‘where it began.’

1967 – Royal Performing Arts was established in 1954 to support the preservation of traditional Bhutanese culture. It was formally institutionalised as an academy in 1967.

1967 – The Kuensel reported that ‘On royal command, the judiciary and the executive are being separated in the districts of Thimphu, Paro, Wangduephodrang, Punakha, Trongsa, Byakar, Mongar, Zhemgang and Trashigang… The separation of the Judiciary from the executive is hoped, to also better administration of justice in the district.’

1967 – The office of the Secretary General was shifted from Paro to Tashichhodzong and the Headquarters of the Animal Husbandry Department was shifted to Paro from Samtsi.

1967 – The Kuensel reported ‘The temporary shops near the Tashichhodzong have shifted to the area earmarked for the new shopping center in the New Thimphu township … all buildings conform to approved plans and traditional Bhutanese architecture and design.’

1967 – The Kuensel reported, ‘His Royal Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck decided in 1966 that the 51 Kanjur books should be rewritten in letters of gold.’

1968  – Sovereignty of Parliament – His Majesty said, ‘The Constitution of the National Assembly, the King was empowered since 1954 to amend any decision arrived at by the National Assembly…  The proposal to make the National Assembly sovereign body was moved by the King and agreed to by the Assembly members on the King’s request.’

1968 – His Majesty said, ‘From 1954, the National Assembly members have been enjoying freedom of speech during the Assembly sessions. In a similar manner, I feel it will be a good thing if freedom of speech is also extended to all my subjects.’

1967– The Kuensel reported in 1967: ‘The High Court Building was inaugurated at 8.30 A.M. on October 27… On His Majesty’s arrival, His Holiness performed the Rabney (opening) ceremony with the sprinkling of holy water and scattering of scared rice, accompanied by the chanting of sacred words from the holy scriptures. After this important ceremony, His Excellency the Home Minister ascended the steps and united the ribbon thus declaring the High Court opened.’

1968 – The Royal Addresses from the All India Radio, ‘Both India and Bhutan are bound together in the fields of religion on, history and trade. It is not only geographical proximity but mutual love and friendship that has kept us close to each other.’

1969 – His late Majesty said, ‘Here in Thimphu also we are opening this General Post Office… Recently we entered the Universal Postal Union in 1969. Our postage stamps are famous throughout the World.’

1968 – His Majesty said, ‘The Phuentsholing- Thimphu National Highway was built on the sweat and tears of my people. We had no surplus labour force, and so we had to conscript men and women from all parts of the country to work on this project. Many of my countrymen lost their lives in this venture.’

1968 – His Majesty said, ‘The ties of culture and friendship that bind our two countries is a matter of history. Our spiritual heritage which we consider our greatest national treasure stems from the teaching of the great son of India. Lord Gautama Buddha, whose message was brought into our mountainous country in the 8th Century A.D. by the Indian Saint, Guru Padmasabhava. The mighty Himalayan ranges have not only protected India from numerous invaders in the past, but have also safeguarded our national sovereignty and independence. The snow fed rivers which originate in my country have, through times immemorial, flowed into the plains of India, causing not only the intermingling of the soils and waters of our two countries, but of our folk lore and legend and arts. The caravans have traditionally left our mountain fortresses carrying for trade musk and yak tails and returning from the Indian plains with salt and betel nuts and raw silk. Trade and commerce have been further strengthened in the recent past and now all our trade is with India. The bonds of understanding and friendship have been further consolidated as a result of the growing economic and technical co-operation between our two countries, and I am fully confident that nothing can ever shake or destroy our friendship.’

1968 – Mrs. Indira Gandhi told His Majesty, ‘We always support democracy, but it has to be gradual, for the sake of Bhutan’s safety, especially in keeping with its emerging new personality.’

1968 – The formation of a Council of Ministers with Paro Penlop Namgyal Wangchuk as Minister of Trade, Industries, Forests and Mines, Dasho Tamji Jagar as Home Minister and Dasho Chogyal as Finance Minister.

1968– His Majesty the King said that ‘the Teacher Training Institute would meet an important need in the life of the country by training local teachers who could run our schools… appreciate our rich spiritual and cultural heritage which will have to be passed on the next generation if we are to maintain our national identity.’

1968– Inaugurating the Bank of Bhutan His late Majesty stated that ‘the Bank of Bhutan would function as a commercial bank to begin with but later become a central bank and issue notes. It would also function as the Banker of the Government.’

1968 – His Majesty said, ‘until the present monarchical form of Government in the country is changed to that of a constitutional, monarchy.’

1969 – His late Majesty said, ‘Bhutan did not have a standing army in the past but in recent years we have established a fighting force. In the age in which we live, the army occupies a position of extreme importance in the affairs of the State.’

1969 – His late Majesty said, ‘The original Tashichhodzong at Thimphu was completely destroyed by fire. In 1870, my great grandfather the late H.M. Jigme Namgyal reconstructed the Dzong on the old site, but due to the internal troubles prevalent in the country at that time, the Dzong could not be completed… It was then decided at the National Assembly Session that the reconstruction of the Dzong should be undertaken. The work took 7 years and was finally completed…’

1969 – His late Majesty said, ‘Till now we had no auditors to audit the accounts of the State… They will audit the account of the Finance Ministry, Development Ministry, Police Department of the Home Ministry, Trade Ministry, R.B.A., R.B.G., Militia and His Majesty’s accounts.’

1970 – His late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck wrote to the Secretary General, ‘I have the honour, on behalf of the Government of Bhutan, to make application for Bhutan to be admitted to the United Nations Organisation… My Government endorses the purposes and principles stated in the United Nations Charter and declare that it accepts the obligations upon Members of the Organisation and solemnly undertake to fulfil them. The Government and people of Bhutan are actually aware of the proven values of the United Nations Organisation to a small and developing nations of the world and consequently attach great importance to membership.’

1970 – Inaugurating the Sherubtse School, His late Majesty said, ‘Many of you are now receiving modern education and training in various vocational institutions. As more and more of you become educated and trained, you will be able to shoulder responsibilities in the years to come. In course of time, therefore, we will be able to dispense with the services of outsiders in our developmental projects.’

1970 – President Shri V.V. Giri said during his State Visit, ‘India and Bhutan are not merely two neighbouring countries but are very close friends who have shared a common heritage and understanding throughout history. Not only are the fortunes of India and Bhutan inseparably bound to each other but it is evident that it is only in each other’s happiness that the two countries can prosper.’

1971 – His late Majesty commanded the National Assembly that ‘it is felt that service rules be introduced with regard to our civil officers.’

1971 – The Kuensel reported, ‘As per the decision taken on May 30, 1970 in the National Assembly according to the agreement (Point No. 2) made in the Constitutional Monarchy, a second vote of confidence was taken on His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo on May 6, 1971. Out of a total of 137 members, 133 voted for and 4 voted against. His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo will therefore continue on throne.’

1971 – The National Assembly resolved, ‘Hence, the House decided that excepting technical words, the use of foreign language in the country would be restricted.  Meanwhile it was decided that Dzongkha should be used by one and all’

1971 – His late Majesty said, ‘On behalf of my Government and myself, I would like to convey to Your Excellency and the Government of Bangladesh that we have great pleasure in recognising Bangladesh as a sovereign independent country.’

1971 – The Government Order stated, ‘Under the Royal Command of His Majesty the King, a new Department, viz. Department of Tourism has been created under the Ministry of Finance w.e.f. December 1, 1971.’

1971 – The Kuensel reported, ‘For the first time in her history, Bhutan celebrated National Day on December 17, 1971 on the anniversary of the ascension of the Throne of His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck, the first Hereditary King of Bhutan of the Royal House of Wangchuck… In Thimphu, a grand function was organized at Changlinmithang ground… After their arrival, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince unfurled the National Flag and the entire gathering sang the National Anthem of Bhutan.’

1971 – His Royal Highness N. Wangchuk said, ‘In presenting before this Assembly, a short outline of present developments in our country, it is important to emphasize the fact that all the radical changes in the country have been initiated by the King himself. In the field of Government and administration, it has been our aim to reform our traditional institutions to meet the needs of the present age. Representative institutions like the National Assembly, Council of Ministers and the Royal Advisory Council have been established. The sovereign powers of the Monarch have been voluntarily surrendered to the National Assembly. The judiciary is separated from the executive and a uniform legal code based on past custom and present necessity has been introduced.’

1971 – His late Majesty said, ‘In the year 1967, our National Assembly passed a resolution that Bhutan should join the United Nations. In accordance with this resolution, we looked to India for guidance and advice in the matter. India agreed to sponsor our membership, and on assurance received from India of her whole-hearted support for Bhutan’s admission, we sent our application to the Secretary General of the United Nations. To-day, the 3rd day of 8th month of Bhutanese Iron-Hog Year, our country has been admitted as a member of the United Nations … If I were to make a prayer, I would only say that in my son’s time may the people of my country be far more prosperous and happy than what they are today. I also exhort you all to pray likewise that during my son’s time this wish of mine is fulfilled.’

1972 – H.E. Mr. B.S. Das – ‘The year 1961 and 1971 will go down as important landmarks in the history of Bhutan. It was the year 1961 when Bhutan finally shed her policy of isolationism and ventured into an era of modern development…There is no parallel in history where a country so closed and completely undeveloped should have, during a short span of a decade, developed herself so rapidly without any serious changes in her traditional set up. But the most amazing and unparalleled development during this period was the political one. From an absolute monarchy till 1967, Bhutan converted itself into a constitutional democracy. Historians will find it interesting to delve into the reasons which led the present King, so utterly loved and respected by his people, to surrender his powers voluntarily. Those of us who know him can only say that he being essentially a democrat in nature believed sincerely that the people alone mattered to the country and without their active participation and say in the country’s economic and political development, Bhutan could not progress.’

1972 – His late Majesty arrived in Trongsa on 12th June for The Crown Prince His Royal Highness Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s Thridhar ceremony of the Trongsa Poenlop on 16th June. It was his journey to the place of his birth, Thruepang.

1972 – The National Assembly recorded that ‘… His Majesty the King proposed the nomination of Lyonpo Dawa Tsering of the Development Ministry to the post. In the ensuing vote, Lyonpo Dawa Tsering secured a majority of 63.7%. As such, the Assembly endorsed the appointment of Lyonpo Dawa Tsering as Foreign Minister.’

1972 – His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck proclaimed, ‘To the great misfortune of the nation … His Majesty suddenly passed away there at 10:30P.M. on July 21, 1972. Terrible grief has therefore come to us all as if night had fallen during the light of day… All of you are aware that His late Majesty not only acted for the present and immediate welfare of the country, but also looked to its future security as well.’

1972 – Kuensel reported on October 28, 1972 at Kurjey, ‘Her Excellency the Prime Minister of India arrived with her delegation… Their Holinesses began the chanting of prayers in soft tones as assistants prepared the pyre, then the flames were lit and the guns boomed in Royal Salute, the Guard of Honour presented arms, the buglers blew the Last Post, the sandalwood smoke began filtering out through the roof of the Purkhang, and restrained tears began flowing unabashedly from thousands of eyes. The final gesture, the final step to immortality the ultimate perpetuation of Royal memory as the soulful eyes watched the smoke being carried away by the wind as the chanting and the music rose up to join its speedy progress towards the west, over the valleys and mountains of Bhutan, his kingdom for twenty years.’ Mrs. Gandhi said that “the richest legacy of His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck is his worthy son and successor, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck in whose hands now rests the destiny of Bhutan.”

Contributed by

Thrimchi Sonam Tobgye (Retd.)

Supreme Court of Bhutan