LG: Samrang gewog might be a small gewog with only 29 households in five chiwogs. But voters here have an ample number of candidates to choose from.

The gewog has two gup, three mangmi and four tshogpa candidates. This includes a woman candidate each for the mangmi and tshogpa posts, both of whom were inspired to run by the Bhutan Network for Empowering Women.

It is a choice between experience and qualifications when it comes to the gup candidates.

Former mangmi, Tara Bir Bista, 36, and a former businessman, Bidhan Kumar Chhetri, 46, are vying for the post of gup.

The former gup, MB Gurung, decided not to re-contest for personal reasons.

Samrang is 24km from Samdrupcholing dungkhag. The gewog had remained isolated until 2011 when it was demarcated as a separate gewog from Pemathang gewog in the first local government election.

Since then, the gewog’s administration has been attempting to bring back people who left the area decades back owing to security problems and human-wildlife conflict.

The gewog often faced challenges in implementing any kind of developmental activities given the small population. It was only in the last five years that the number of households increased from 19 to 29. There are around 115 people residing in the gewog currently.

This is why, apart from their own pledges, both the gup candidates shared their priority was to make the gewog more habitable and bring development that would attract people to return. Many who left still own land in the gewog.

Both the aspirants expressed that the gewog’s population has to be increased. Two chiwogs currently do not have any settlements.

It was a coincidence that lead to Bidhan Kumar Chhetri, 47, contesting for the post. Bidhan Kumar Chhetri, who used to live in Thimphu said he had actually come to the gewog to participate in a tender, but villagers instead convinced him to contest for gup. “I never thought I would return to my village as a gup candidate.”

“When I was here it saddened me to see that there were still so many things to do, to develop,” he said. “And alcoholism is still the biggest issue in the gewog. That was when I realised that if I want to solve such issues, being a gup was necessary.”

A IT graduate from Bangalore and father of three, Bidhan Kumar Chhetri said some of his pledges are to improve the standard of living, improve the agriculture sector to meet the “one gewog, one product” target, to establish a basic health unit, and improve solar fencing.

“If elected, I would work hard to explore opportunities to make people who hold thrams and are registered in Samrang to return, or at least participate in public consultations once in a while to discuss developmental activities,” he said. “We should work hard to prepare for the 12th Plan,” he said.

It was no different for former mangmi, Tara Bir Bista. After the villagers learned that their former gup will not re-contest, Tara Bir Bista said he was encouraged to contest for the post.

Tara Bir Bista, who was born and brought up in the gewog and studied until class X, said as a mangmi he could not do what he wanted to do for the gewog because only a gup could bring in development. A mangmi cannot make pledges or promises, but only assist the gup in the office, he pointed out.

“So becoming a gup will be an opportunity to bring developments that I always wanted to bring,” he said, adding that although the gewog has achieved basic facilities in the 11th Plan, there are still a few immediate developments needed in the gewog.

Tara Bir Bista said if elected, he promises to get a health assistant stationed in the gewog, for which there is a dire need, and to request for an extended classroom so that children don’t have to be sent as boarders to other gewogs. He also promised to solve the water shortage.

“If elected, I want to work hard to convince people to return to the gewog since lots of opportunities are coming to the gewog like irrigation and mega-farm projects,” he said.

He pointed out that he would focus on agriculture so that residents will have opportunities to earn an income and prosper. This would also attract people back to the gewog, he said.

The candidates are currently campaigning door-to-door.

Yangchen C Rinzin |  Samdrupcholing 

Supported by Bhutan Media Foundation and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation