'We prepare our people for value-based development'

The Inquirer

Maj Gen V Namgyel

The country is fighting hard to save its environment and culture from the wave of new economy. On the one hand, the small nation is balancing tough geopolitics of the region by keeping an excellent relation with India, but on the other it is trying to insulate itself from the economic changes India is witnessing after adopting a new economic policy. The reason is simple. 

Bhutan is trying to embrace modernity, but not at the cost of destroying its culture and environment. However, the nation seems to be self-assured to avoid an indulgence in the economic competition which even smaller nations are finding hard to ignore, and is bold enough to declare its own concept of economic development, the Gross National Happiness.

The concept, which not only denies the prevailing concept of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) based economic development, but also set a new parameter of human happiness. The concept certainly finds significance in a situation where irreversible climate change is threatening the planet with grave consequences. Anil Sinha of Deccan Herald spoke to Bhutan’s ambassador in India Maj Gen V Namgyel on all these issues. Excerpts:
How does it feel about being neighbour of a big country like India?

We are proud of our relationship. India is our big brother, a good big bother.  It is really of great significance for us to enjoy such a good relation with India. This relationship has profound impact on us. I would like to refer to political reforms and changes our country has undergone since sixties and seventies. India has played a very significant role in it.  I would like recall visit of first Indian prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1958 to Bhutan.

His visit was one of the most important events for Bhutan. Pandit Nehru suggested to the King to go ahead with the political reforms. It initiated series of political reforms. Our third King spiritedly pursued all these reforms.

Do you not think that Bhutan has witnessed an altogether different pattern of development of democratic institutions which did not have any push from below?
Yes. All of the democratic institutions were introduced by our successive Kings in this manner. The third King introduced basic structures of the National Assembly, Advisory Council, Five Year Plan and independent judiciary. These institutions were later expanded and made more participatory during the rule of our fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

He also introduced the parliamentary system. I can recall how he campaigned vigorously during referendum to persuade the people to vote for the draft constitution which was to become the basis of a parliamentary system based on direct elections. He abdicated the throne in favour of his young son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck who became the fifth King.

Do you think it is easy for a country grossly embedded in its own tradition to adopt radical democratic reforms?

It was never easy for the people to disassociate from the old form of governance and accept democracy. Our successive kings prepared them for it.  During the referendum on the constitution, people were not ready for a change from monarchy to parliamentary democracy. Our fourth King travelled to different parts of the country to convince them about the change.

Your country has adopted a new course of economic development in which there is no space for the mad rush for economic power. Is it easy to insulate the country from the wave of changes blowing around ?

We do not find it very difficult. It requires determination. Not that we have rejected modernity. Only thing is we are keen on preserving our traditional value and culture. We have devised our own way to go along that path. In our country, the process of preparing people for a value based development starts from the school itself. We lay emphasis on traditional values and national culture.

Of late, Bhutan is undergoing industrialisation with some considerable pace. Will it be easy to avoid damage to the environment?

We are doing it very cautiously. Our preferences have been determined accordingly. In power sector, we are opting for hydroelectric energy. Utmost care is being taken in choosing and running other industries. For example, we have allowed cement factories to come up, but they are using technology which eliminates pollution.

What about tourism? The country has announced new packages to attract tourists. Will it not affect your environment and the culture?

We are allowing limited tourism. Moreover, we concentrate on Indian tourists only. These packages are so designed that it does not harm our fragile environment and the sensitive culture. Those who visit us stay in a manner that they do not contribute to environmental pollution, nor do they affect our culture.

It has been a big challenge for all the modern nations to maintain their plurality in terms of ethnicity and culture. In this regard, how would you place the efforts in your country?
That is enshrined in our constitution. Every community has the right to pursue its faith and culture.

We have ensured proper representation at all the levels from local bodies to higher legislative, executive and judicial bodies.  People from southern part (where ethnic Nepalis are in good number) are holding important posts at all the levels.  However, to preserve the unity of the country, we follow certain things. This includes learning national language and following dress code. We have ensured complete participation of all the regions in our parliamentary system.

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