The world has suddenly woken up to learn that a tiny Kingdom called Bhutan has outshined every other country in its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. In this battle, it has lost only one life so far, and that too, more due to comorbidity than anything else. It is a success story that no other nation has been able to replicate. And now, everyone wants to know the secret.  Bhutan has no secret weapon, it has no secret medicine. It has simply relied on the wisdom of His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel  Wangchuck.  His Majesty has the ability to penetrate the haze of complexities and uncertainties and focus his attention on the needs of the hour.  With his perspicacious vision, His Majesty has devised a simple solution based on sincerity and determination. Bhutan’s success in controlling the spread of this pandemic is not based on a secret formula, it is based on a strategy arising out of proper planning and preparation. 

That is what leadership is all about.  According to Archie Brown “Good leadership requires many attributes whose relative importance varies according to the time, place and context”. He sees it as the ability to view each crisis in its own context and reach out to the crux of the matter by separating the chaff from the hay.  The war against the coronavirus is like no other war. It is a war against an invisible enemy.  This is a war that will not be won by the number of lives sacrificed by the soldiers on the battlefield but by the number of lives saved in the endeavour. The challenge posed by this war is unparalleled.  It is a challenge that has put the leadership of this country through a test of fire.  There is no room for complacency. A wrong step could be catastrophic and a wrong decision could light up the night sky with funeral pyres.  What the world admires is not the discovery of a miracle medicine but the discovery of a leader who is the miracle medicine. That is why we have surrendered our fate to the enlightened leadership of His Majesty. The relationship between the king and his subjects is guided by a sacred covenant of love and trust. It is a time tested bond that had been in vogue from the very inception of the Wangchuck dynasty. Never have the kings faltered in their love for the country and its people and never have the people faltered with their trust in the ability of the Kings to lead and protect them.  

It is because of that sacred bond that we see His Majesty rushing to the hotspots every time a crisis erupts unexpectedly out of nowhere.  And every time he does that he puts his life ahead of ours. This is a virus totally unfamiliar and prone to rapid mutation, each mutation is more terrifying than its previous manifestation. The presence of His Majesty at these hazardous sites is a matter of grave concern for all of us. We silently watch the drama being played out in front of our eyes but we do so by offering oblations to the guardian angels and seeking their protection. But it is also true that because of his presence we feel more assured and more protected.  With his presence, His Majesty inspires the frontline workers and the Covid-19 Task Force to reach out beyond the scope of endurance.  With his presence, he enthuses them with a sense of duty and with his words he energises them with a sense of purpose. The world which lauds the success story emerging out of Bhutan is also amazed to see the corps of volunteers and civil servants working tirelessly in unison, and with such devotion that no other country can muster. They see the people religiously abiding by the rules of Covid-19 appropriate behaviour and enduring prolonged periods of quarantine and lockdown without murmur. No other country can boast of such passion and such devotion which the people of Bhutan have displayed at this juncture.  No one can predict how long this war will continue but what we can predict is that come what may, our leadership and the people shall remain steadfast in their determination to win this war.

The price of leadership is the heavy responsibility that it carries on its shoulders.  Marcus Aurelius of ancient Rome said that it is the responsibility of the leadership to work intelligently with what is given and not waste time fantasising about a world of flawless people and perfect choices. Today, thousands of centuries later, we see His Majesty driven by that responsibility, fulfilling it with intense perseverance and determination, leaving nothing to chance. Free from the trammel of monarchy, and the illusion of power, he is often seen walking for days, with no end, along the porous borders on the south,  personally inspecting the arrangements made to keep it secure. He is seen walking through those dense forests infested with leeches and snakes, through rain and sunshine displaying the same passion that he desires to see in us.  Along the way, there are no hotels, no restaurants, not even a road. Day after day you have to trudge along that path, eating your cold meals out of a tiffin box during the day and crawling into a  tiny tent at night.  This is the routine on which the safety of this nation rests.  Those are the moments that inspire us with the burning desire to protect and keep this country as safe as possible.  Those are the moments when His Majesty need not speak a  word,  for deeds speak louder than words.  

Even in these troubled times, we can bask in the rave reviews the world has given to us.  Once again Bhutan became the centre of attention for the world when we completed the vaccination of the entire population within 7 days.  We feel proud to hear the words of Dr Will Parks of UNICEF when he says “The Kingdom of Bhutan is literally the last country in South Asia still standing. Let us remain a beacon of hope for the region and the world”. We take pride not only in our own success but also in our ability to extend a helping hand whenever required. Our team of doctors and nurses with all the medical paraphernalia were the first to arrive when an earthquake devastated Nepal. And now, when millions of Covid-19 patients in India are poised between death and unbearable agony, we have offered solace by providing them oxygen produced in Bhutan.  Due to the benevolence and guidance of His Majesty, Bhutan has now acquired the capacity to reinvent itself and meet the challenges that come in its way. His Majesty has instilled in us the confidence we never enjoyed before. We are no longer afraid of the dark, nor afraid of the stormy wind that may buffet our lives. Our trust in our leadership has paid its dividends.  We may be sailing through rough waters just now, but we are sure that in due course of time, His Majesty will ferry us safely to the golden shores of fresh opportunities. 

Despite the best efforts of the government and the people, despite the protective bubble created by the Covid-19 Taskforce, there will be some leakages. We understand that. We cannot have a perfect system that guarantees total protection but we must admit that we have an excellent system that surpasses others. There will always be cases where some people may inadvertently bypass the protective measures, and due to these lapses, there will be setbacks. But we must always remember that these failures have occurred not because of inherent deficiencies in our system but because somewhere along the line, we have failed to abide by the rules. These incidences will require the Covid-19 Task Force to make strategic changes from time to time but the ultimate goal of His Majesty to treat each and every life as a precious gift of God will remain unchanged. 

Contributed by

Afroze Bukht