In other words…

Oceans for Bhutan

I am in New York attending the Annual Parliamentary Hearing at United Nations Headquarters. It is a parliamentary conference on SDG 14: Life Below Oceans. The theme is ‘Preserving the oceans, safeguarding planet, ensuring human well-being in the context of the 2030 Agenda.
I made the following interventions today.
The participation of delegates from a mountain country in a conference on oceans may sound anachronistic. It isn’t! Our participation has three primary objectives.
1) As parliamentarians, we need to keep ourselves abreast of all important SDG discourses at the global level. Although we are a small country, we take our international obligations seriously. What happens in the Indian Ocean or Bay of Bengal has consequences in the Himalayas.
2) We are deeply appreciative of the interconnection and interdependence of life-forms. What happens in the marine eco-systems is not exclusive from what happens in terrestrial eco-systems. In Bhutan’s perspective, preservation of all life-forms, marine or terrestrial, is important not from the perspective of human well-being. Our primary consideration for preservation of life is not how much protein supply we need, how much trees and beaches are available for tourists etc. Our consideration is not incidental to human well-being but the basis of respect for all life forms as equal stakeholders in marine and terrestrial eco-system.
3) What happens in the Bay of Bengal is of concern to us. We hope that those of you in the Atlantic and Pacific would be equally concerned about what happens in the Andes or Himalayas. We cannot pretend that there is no interconnection. As a society dependent on agriculture for livelihood and on hydropower for our economy, the health of oceans and related issues of global warming and climate change are very important to us.
4) In the language of international politics, vocabularies like sacrifice and compassion may not have any place. The basis of international politics is self-interest. However, the international community must make allowance for leadership transcending national self-interest. In Bhutan, we have made sacrifices by overlooking benefits of development to preserve the environment and life-forms, floral and faunal, which benefits people beyond Bhutan.
5) We have legally committed to require 60% of our land cover under forests and to remain carbon-neutral for all times to come (although we are carbon negative for the moment). The concern of being a small nation and exigencies of development has not prevented us from making sacrifices so that the global community not only takes note of but also benefits. 
6) We thus support international initiatives like the one by IPU and UN to preserve oceans as home of aquatic lives, and also as the basis of all life-forms. It is in this context that we, from the mountains, participate in the conference on oceans and life below water.

It felt as if Jigme Namgyel finally returned to Trongsa after 135 years. As His Majesty the King and His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo accompanied by Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen, members of the royal family and representatives of the people took His Royal Highness the Gyalsey into Trongsa Dzong on 18th December, even the narrow corridors, high walls and open courtyards seem to come alive. This was neither due to the sound of jaling reverberating through these corridors nor due to the sacred thangkas hung on the walls to mark the occasion. Rather it felt as if a host of local and guardian deities were among these walls, corridors and courtyards rubbing shoulders with the human crowd and waiting anxiously to welcome the Gyalsey.

For us the Bhutanese, tendrel is so important. The first historic visit of the Gyalsey to Trongsa Dzong – the cradle of Wangchuck dynasty and source of the country’s supreme jewels – took place amidst interdependence of many auspicious omens. Forty four years ago, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo was enthroned as the Trongsa Penlop. Soon after, he ascended the golden throne and ushered in an unprecedented era of peace, happiness and prosperity. He was there that day affectionately holding our beloved Gyalsey (the future Trongsa Penlop and indeed the monarch) and taking him through the sacred shrines and historic hallways.
Twelve years ago, His Majesty the King was enthroned as the Trongsa Penlop in the Year of the Monkey and likewise, soon ascended the golden throne to lead us into an exciting century. His Majesty chose to celebrate the National Day in Trongsa this year, which is an auspicious and apt tribute to the birth of the Gyalsey and the 10th year of a very successful reign.In the very year of his birth – the Year of Fire Monkey – HRH the Gyalsey was received in Trongsa Dzong. The past, present and the future came together as the former, reigning and future kings as well as Trongsa penlops graced the majestic Trongsa Dzong. These three times have not been separated by any disjuncture or disruption. Rather, they are a continuum and that continuum – the foundation of our political stability, survival and prosperity – saw itself most joyfully expressed as the royal grandfather, father and son came together in Trongsa Dzong.

As we celebrate the 109th National Day, the first one to be graced by our beloved Gyalsey, a new era begins! We have had 108 years of benevolent reign under our successive kings during which we saw the consolidation of our security and sovereignty and the progressive modernization of our society. 

In our tradition, one hundred and eight marks the completion of a cycle and a phase. Whether it is the recitation of mantras using prayer beads, hoisting of prayers flags or practicing prostrations, one hundred and eight completes a round or a set. Then we begin anew. The 109th national day is in fact, the first and a fresh beginning of a second phase, a second cycle. As HRH the Gyalsey graced this national day and visited Trongsa Dzong, a great tendrel for yet another century of benevolent reign of the Wangchuck Dynasty has been set in motion.

The centrality of Trongsa in the life-process of our nation-building journey is unquestionable. However, that centrality is neither due to the presence of a majestic Dzong nor a consequence of its central geographic location. It is due to the rise of courageous, visionary and larger-than-life leaders who have been associated with Trongsa. 

Despite the change in the architecture and essence of our political system, the relevance of Trongsa Penlop in this day and age continues to be one which is more than mere ceremonial import. It is symbolic of our nationhood and that symbolism is built on a strong foundation of historic relevance. Hence, the first visit of the future Trongsa Penlop to Trongsa Dzong is symbolic of the continuity of our most cherished institution, without which our survival as a nation will be an everyday struggle, a very difficult struggle.

The name Jigme Namgyel had long transcended its association as personal identity marker of the most illustrious of Trongsa Penlops before the founding of monarchy. Jigme Namgyel was synonymous with courageous and visionary leadership, an expression for unquestioned loyalty to the country and a vision of what the future could be like. Jigme Namgyel was the 20th Trongsa Penlop. He indeed served as the 51st Desi but is more known as Trongsa Penlop. Why is it that the office of Trongsa Penlop became synonymous with him and not so much with those who preceded him?

Most of the power struggles in the two centuries before 1907 were concentrated in western Bhutan. Major power centres were located in the west. The two penlops of Paro and Dagana as well as three dzongpons of Punakha, Wangdi Phodrang and Thimphu were members of the Zhabdrung-era cabinet. They were all located in the west. Besides, they were located close to each other, and hence the possibility of rubbing shoulders and clashing arms was always high. Moreover, they were located close to Punakha, the capital. Anyone of them could be the next desi, whose office was in Punakha Dzong. The temptation to the highest office were realized through means, which often included factionalism, assassination and treachery. 

On the other hand, Trongsa was located at a safe distance. It not only had strategic advantage but its resource base was much larger. For example, it had six different dzongs under its jurisdiction whereas those in the west were single-dzong-based provinces. This meant that Trongsa had greater material and manpower resources. Moreover, there was comparatively a greater degree of political stability as dzongpons in the east, who were neither equivalent of Trongsa Penlop nor members of the cabinet, hardly fought with each other.

Trongsa had strategic, political, material and manpower advantage compared to power centres in the west. It had the advantage of allying with anyone in the west to maximize its political influence. However, an important question does arise. Why is it that no other Trongsa Penlop after Chogyal Minjur Tenpa and before Jigme Namgyel used this huge advantage to unify the country which increasingly became fragmented after its initial founding by Zhabdrung Rinpoche?

Jigme Namgyel brought in a new dimension to the office of Trongsa Penlop. It was one of leadership that was more national, less local. His towering personality, unmatched bravery and steadfast commitment to the legacy of Zhabdrung Rinpoche – which is the sovereign political entity called Bhutan – combined very well with all other existing and emerging advantages to unify the fragmented polity. In doing so, Trongsa Penlop and Jigme Namgyel became synonymous!

This legacy was not squandered but zealously guarded and built upon by the successive Trongsa Penlops. The strengthening of this legacy manifested in many ways. Leadership, which was thus far based on personality became institutionalized. The transfer of power and succession was also institutionalized. This ensured continuity of leadership which was essential for ensuring political stability. Political stability was the most prized and sought after objective of people of all walks of life after nearly two centuries of factionalism and civil wars. Thus the Wangchuck Dynasty became the institutional expression of that precious legacy which Jigme Namgyel had bequeathed.

The first visit of Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck to Trongsa Dzong in the very year of his birth therefore, assures the Bhutanese people of the renewal and continuity of that sacred legacy. It strengthens the national vision founded on the legacy of Desi Jigme Namgyel. That vision is one of national survival and prosperity.

The visit brought many things together. It brought together a celebrated aspect of our history, the idea of benevolent leadership, institutionalization of that leadership in the Wangchuck Dynasty, its expression in the Trongsa Penlops and Druk Gyalpos, the peace dividend of such leadership, and renewal of our long-term vision, which was also strongly articulated in His Majesty’s royal address on the national day.

This historic visit is therefore, very significant from the perspectives of auspicious tendrel, history and vision for a great future. Trongsa reminds us of a glorious past and its centrality in the national unification process without which we may not have survived today as a nation. Desi Jigme Namgyel reminds us of his precious legacy, which is a unified nation and the Wangchuck Dynasty, the key to that unity and enduring political stability. Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck in Trongsa reminds us of the great prospect of our ability to survive and prosper as a nation into the future long after we are gone. 

He symbolizes our proud history but more so an even greater future by providing us, our children and the yet-unborn Bhutanese the much needed continuity of national leadership, unity and harmony of our small but diverse society which is very important amidst vicissitudes of political uncertainties, democratic upheavals and rapid socio-economic and cultural changes in a globalizing world. May the seeds of auspicious tendrel sown by way of our beloved Gyalsey’s first visit to Trongsa Dzong bear even sweeter fruits when he is enthroned as the 25th Trongsa Penlop and indeed as the Dragon King in future!

I have posted updated copies of my commentaries and suggestions for  Class IV as well as Class V Social Studies. They are pdf copies that you see at the bottom of this post. Please note the following:
First, use these versions as my final drafts. Ignore the earlier ones if you have downloaded from my blog.
Two, don’t treat my commentaries as the best and the final. That’s why I have referred to each of them as ‘suggestions.’
Three, always crosscheck with Royal Education Council or other experts of the subject. I am also sharing the same copies with them.
Fourth, use your own judgement. Teachers are generally in the best position to detect mistakes or update information.
Fifth, I am sure my commentaries would have typos and other errors. If you notice them, please let me know so that I will also keep updating them.

PDF: Class IV SS

PDF: Class V SS.

Comprehensive Commentary and Suggestions for Class V Social Studies

General Comments

  1. Spellings of names of places

Different spellings and styles are used to spell names of places.

Place names with four syllables are usually clubbed together. For example, Pema Gatshel is written as Pemagatshel and Wangdue Phodrang as Wangduephodrang. This is a common mistake made in government publications and all mainstream media.

Besides, there are different spellings for the same places as shown in the sample in the following table. Read the rest of this entry »

Gross National Happiness – An Alternative Modernity for Bhutan

As advocated and practiced by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan
I. The Context
“Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.”
This apparently simple but profound statement made by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan has caught the attention of scholars, national leaders and economic thinkers. By prioritizing happiness over material well-being, his statement questions and contests the primary economic argument of our time that happiness is a consequence of economic growth and consumption.
This is not to suggest that he dismisses economic development and consumption as constituents of happiness. Rather, he has redefined happiness by making material wellbeing just one among many other constituents, which has thus far received either negligible or no consideration at all in public policies and institutions of governance. In his thinking, economic development and consumption alone does not enjoy hegemony as determinant of happiness and well-being. This is indeed a revolutionary thinking to the extent that global economic policies and institutions rooted in neo-liberal western capitalism continue to place production and consumption of material goods and services, and hence GNP, at the heart of a good life and good governance.

Read the rest of this entry »

Our text books are littered with mistakes. Spellings, facts, grammar and much more! This is unacceptable! We cannot teach children using text books containing such errors.

Take the following page for example. In every paragraph, there are errors of all kinds imaginable. I will comment on the first four paragraphs. I will not even concern myself here to comment on the errors of spellings, grammar and syntax but merely on facts!

First paragraph

Text: “In the past, our country was a monarchy.”

Commentary: Bhutan is still a monarchy today, not just in the past. This sentence draws a comparison with the present as if to suggest we are not a monarchy today.

Text: “Bhutan became a Parliamentary Democratic Monarchy in 2008.”

Commentary: Bhutan became a parliamentary democracy in 2008. The form of government is a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. The usage of the words “Parliamentary Democratic Monarchy” is incorrect! Read the rest of this entry »

Sharing a copy of my speech delivered at Gaedu College of Businees Studies during their Foundation Day on 15 October 2013. The Natural Resources and Environment Committee of the National Council is conducting a comprehensive review of Agriculture’s policy in preparation for the winter session. Some of the key issues I raise in this speech are being taken up.


My roommate at Sherubtse College studied economics whereas I studied English literature. I saw him writing essays to prove one of the key tenets of modern economy, that, private sector is the engine of economic growth. Over the course of our three years of roomating and befriending students studying economics, I heard this sacred economic mantra repeated and recited times and again. Since I graduated 18 years ago, I heard that in both the officialdom and private sectors.

For a person whose only economic knowledge is derived from the text book taught for Class IX and X in the early 90’s, who was I to question the truth of that mantra. I took it as I heard it. So I keep repeating even today, that, private sector is the engine of economic growth. But I have begun to wonder early on what is the private sector, particularly, in the context of Bhutan. Read the rest of this entry »

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