In other words…

Statement at the 137th General Assembly of Inter-Parliamentary Union at St. Petersburg, Russia, 15th October 2017

• Isn’t it interesting that Bhutan, a small Kingdom in the Himalayas, is in some sense large at the same time?

• Isn’t it telling that this small Kingdom has survived through the centuries as a sovereign, peace-loving, tolerant and progressive society?

• Isn’t its story of building a culturally pluralistic and spiritually tolerant society under selfless, caring and visionary leaders worthy of your kind attention?

Madam President, Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates,

With deep humility, I extend to you the greetings of His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who is deeply loved and respected by the Bhutanese people. Why? For keeping our small country united and sovereign, for ensuring harmony amongst diverse ethno-linguistic groups, for protecting devotees of all religions, and for championing the cause of our democracy.

The small Kingdom of Bhutan with less than 1 million people and about 38000 square kilometers in size is nevertheless characterized by large diversity of 24 very different ethnic-linguistic groups. Although Buddhism is the predominant faith, there is also a sizeable Hindu following. Within Buddhism and Hinduism, there are different schools and sects. Some new faiths are also emerging.

With the introduction of parliamentary democracy in 2008, Bhutan moved from being a unicameral legislature EARLIER to a bi-cameral legislature NOW in order to enhance political accommodation for the large diversity of our small country. Therefore, members of the apolitical ‘upper chamber’ called the National Council are directly nominated and elected by grassroots communities. This chamber provides the political space for equal representation of different ethno-linguistic groups irrespective of the sizes of their communities. Even in the ‘popular’ party-based ‘lower chamber’ called the National Assembly, constituencies have been delimited to enable fair and balanced representation across ethnic lines. Moreover, these ethnic communities which are administratively categorized into districts and sub-districts have their own local governments.

Hence, parliamentary democracy, which was introduced NOT as a consequence of popular demand but the WILL of our beloved Fourth King, strengthened the institutional framework and political spaces for inter-faith and inter-ethnic dialogue to mediate differences and synthesize common aspirations!

By saying thus, I do not wish to suggest in any way that political institutions and processes did not exist before 2008 to facilitate such dialogues. In fact, representations in the earlier National Assembly, which was first established in 1953, a conciliar body called the Royal Advisory Council of 1965 as well as community development assemblies established after 1980s had very strong and balanced ethnic basis.

Allow me to highlight Madam President that there are also dedicated national holidays, festivals and sites of worship for both Buddhists and Hindus. Although His Majesty the King is a Buddhist, Hindu temples have been built with royal patronage. The royal family participates in important Hindu rituals and hosts Hindu ceremonies in the palace premise.

Cultural pluralism, Madam President, is therefore not something NEW that we seek to promote NOW in the context of present-day dynamics of globalization and migration. In fact, cultural pluralism and spiritual tolerance have always been the defining character of Bhutanese society. Our socio-political institutions and policies have reflected this character. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution. His Majesty the King is the protector of all faiths.

There is however, an emerging concern! Non-indigenous institutions and non-state agencies from ELSEWHERE are forcing poorer and vulnerable members of our society to change faiths by offering inducements of cash and other benefits. They take advantage of the leniency of our laws against such change of faith effected by inducements and questionable means. This has become a matter of concern.

As much as we uphold the constitutional rights of citizens to practice whatever faith they choose to believe in, we also need to protect vulnerable members of our society from being forced to change faiths through inducements of monetary benefits and other questionable means. Otherwise, this will lead to inter-faith and inter-ethnic disputes, which will undermine the peace and stability of our small country. I would like to hope that such challenges which other nations and communities may face also receive due consideration of the distinguished delegates in our debate.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Russian Federation for your warm welcome and hospitality. I also congratulate and thank President Saber Choudhary for his successful tenure and wish him the very best hereafter.

Thank you and Tashi Delek!


Exactly forty-six years ago, Bhutan became the 128th member of the United Nations Organization during its 26th General Assembly. That same day, the Kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar were also admitted as new members. It was one of the most important days in our journey to achieve international recognition as a sovereign nation. Our membership to this international organization is an enduring legacy of the far-sighted leadership and vision of our late King His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.

On the 46th anniversary of our UN membership, I intend to recall some important milestones. His Majesty the Late King first sent an application for our admission on 10th December 1970 to the UN Secretary General U Thant requesting him to place the application before the Security Council and the General Assembly. Read the rest of this entry »

Mahasiddha Tilopa

The following is the text presented along with the statue of Tilopa to Dharma Rajika Buddhist Monastery in Dhaka, Bangladesh today by the Bhutan delegation who participated inthe 136th Inter-parliamentary Union.


Tilopa was one of the greatest Mahasiddhas, who was born in Chativavo (Chittagong) in Bangladesh. His father was Pranyasha and mother, Kazhi. He lived from 988 – 1069 AD. He is also known as Prajna Vadra or Sherub Zangpo.

His teachers included the great masters like Saraha, Nagarjuna and Matangi. But it is said that he received the full mahamudra and vajrayana teachings directly from Buddha Vajradhara or Dorje Chang.

Tilopa’ foremost student was Naropa, who lived from 1016-1110 AD. Naropa’s student was the great Tibetan translator Marpa (1012-1097) and his student, the greatest Tibetan yogi Milarepa (1040-1123 AD). The Kagyu school of Buddhism that Milarepa founded is also known as Marpa Kagyu.

The Kagyu School or more specifically, Drukpa Kagyu School is one of the two popular schools of Buddhism in Bhutan. This school constitutes the State’s monastic community. It traces its origins directly to the Mahasiddha Tilopa through students like Milarepa, Marpa and Naropa.

Tilopa never visited Bhutan. Nor did the great master Atisha Dipankar. But another great Bengali Buddhist master called Drubthob Ngagi Rinchen or Vana Ratna visited Bhutan in the 14th century. He spent sometime in Punakha valley and built the holy temple called Dzongchung as well as the image of Buddha enshrined inside it in 1328.

Hence Mahasiddha Tilopa and Drubthob Ngagi Rinchen provide the most important historical and Buddhist link between Bhutan and Bangladesh. This sacred image of Tilopa is being presented to Dharma Rajika monastery to honour our historical, religious and contemporary relationship. It has been consecrated and blessed by His Holiness The Je Khenpo, Trulku Jigme Choeda, the Supreme Abbot of Bhutan.

Presented by Dr. Sonam Kinga, Chairperson of National Council, Parliament of Bhutan and the Bhutanese Delegation on 8th April 2017.

“Redressing inequalities: delivering on dignity and well-being for all”

I don’t believe it! You won’t accept it! But someone said, “No matter what they say in the conferences and symposiums about poverty and hunger in the world. At the end, they are the first one forgetting us.”

No offence. He was not talking about IPU. At the IPU, we can prove him wrong. And I am sure, he would be happy to be proven wrong. To do so, we have in our hands, the crystallization of four days of our deliberations called the Dhaka Communique.

Hon’ble President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I would like to thank the IPU for giving me the honour and privilege to present the Dhaka Communique. Before I do that, let me take this opportunity to thank the Hon’ble President of the General Assembly for the successful conduct of the IPU. Let me also thank the Hon’ble Secretary General for the renewal of his tenure, which is a testimony of his success and achievements for our organization, and of what he will achieve hereafter.

Why are we here in Dhaka?

The context

Inequalities permeate all societies. They are multi-dimensional and inter-linked. Inequalities are social, economic and political. There are costs of inequalities which are high, hidden and unevenly distributed. On the contrary, the consequences are not hidden. Our people, our fellow citizens, suffer. Inequalities prevent them from realizing their full potentials and their human rights, and from participating in society and political processes.

What then is our commitment as parliamentarians?

We commit to place concerns of inequalities at the heart of our work as parliamentarians. We welcome SDG 10 and its twin objectives of eradication poverty and making economic development sustainable. We pledge to make our approach in redressing inequalities holistic, and to leave no one behind.

In addressing inequalities, of which gender is a particularly important dimension, we note that there is no single prescription. Solutions are neither universal or palliative. Each country needs to address inequalities democratically.

How do we position ourselves to realize our commitments at the national and global levels? We are law-makers. Through strengthening legal frameworks and oversight functions, we should consider entrenching in the constitution respect for rule of law, promotion of human dignity, unconditional equality of all people and equality of opportunities under the law. We should facilitate inclusive and participatory political process.

We work in parliaments. Our workplace has to be more representative, inclusive, accessible, transparent and proactive. Parliaments should be protected from influence of money and organized lobbies, vested interest-groups with potential conflict of interests. We note that economic growth is critical to redress inequalities. It must work for all!

But growth has to be made inclusive and sustainable underlined by a proactive redistributive policies, as well as an assessment of economic success which goes beyond GDP to measure well-being.

How can we do it?

Prevent concentration of production and assets in fewer conglomerates.
Support entrepreneurship, SMEs, artisan fisheries, small land owners.

Combat tax evasion, make tax regime progressive and regulate financial sector to minimize risks, and invest in public goods to protect the most vulnerable

Economic growth does depend on human capital, the workers. We must ensure their rights, make pension schemes exhaustive or upscale them to include those working in the informal sector, and also make public education and training affordable to give everyone equal opportunity to work and earn.

We can work alone but we can achieve better results through synergies of scale and international cooperation.

We must: 

 strengthen international cooperation to improve quality and quantity of aid to LDCs,

 support fair trade practices and facilitate economic diversification,

 ensure fairer representations from LDCs in global economic and financial governance and ensure that this governance is strengthened through UN and other multi-lateral bodies.
This, Hon’ble President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen is the summary of Dhaka Communique, our commitment!

Statement of Thrizin Sonam Kinga, Chairperson of the NATIONAL COUNCIL OF BHUTANat the General Assembly of the 136th Inter-Parliamentary Union ,Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2nd April 2017

To redress inequalities, shouldn’t we begin at the margins? Isn’t it at the margins of society that inequalities are more visible and acutely experienced? Has wealth really trickled down to those living in the margins to reduce poverty and redress inequalities? What is Bhutan’s story?

Hon’ble President, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to stop from posing more questions by humbly congratulating first the leaders and people of Bangladesh for the 46th year of your independence, which was celebrated recently. Also allow me to humbly thank you for continuing to cherish the historic moment when Bhutan became the first country to recognize your independence. We regard it as a matter of great honour to have the privilege of enjoying a special place in the hearts of proud and brave people of Bangladesh. 

Hon’ble President, Distinguished Delegates,

I have the honour and privilege of extending to you the warm greetings of His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who has recently completed ten years of successful reign. His Majesty’s reign began as Bhutan embarked on a historic and peaceful transition to parliamentary democracy. By rising above partisan politics and representing the unity of our small but diverse nation, His Majesty has been at the forefront of laying down a long-term vision for Bhutan that seeks to ensure the success of our young democracy and to build a just and harmonious society.

I must digress here for a moment, Hon’ble President, to state that the democratic transition in Bhutan did not take place in response to popular domestic demand, international pressure or dire socio-economic and political compulsions. In complete contrast to historical trends that lead to regime change, the transition in Bhutan took place as the will of the Fourth King of Bhutan, who voluntarily abdicated at a young age of 51 years and at the height of his success and popularity. 

Since 2008, the present King’s leadership has led to the stabilization of democratic process, development of strong institutions and credible political spaces. Bhutan is a small, mountainous and land-locked country in the Himalayas largely consisting of over 4000 rural villages and less than a million people. About 60% of the people are subsistent farmers. Poverty is largely a rural phenomenon. Redressing inequalities begins here in the villages. 

As subsistence farmers, land ownership is vital to ensure decent livelihood and to empower and uplift them from poverty. However, only 7% of land is arable. Granting land titles is a prerogative of His Majesty the King. Why? Left to politicians, this scarce resource risks being squandered in a very short time for exigencies of political gains. His Majesty has thus far granted nearly 300,000 acres of land titles to the landless, needy and the poor – those in the margins – in order to bridge inequality between the ‘haves’ and ‘haves nots’ in a growing economy. 

Recently, His Majesty noted with particular concern the financial institutions’ dismal credit allocation of only 2.5% to the agriculture sector from a total loan stock of Nu.85 billion lent out thus far. In other words, he expressed deep concern at the fiscal exclusion of those at the margins which include the peasants, poor and the vulnerable. As a result, the central bank and financial institutions are now set to formulate very soon accessible and affordable rural credit schemes for financing agricultural enterprises and small and cottage industries.

Guided by His Majesty’s inspiring vision to build a just and harmonious society, the democratically elected parliament and its executive wing, the government had charted out a course of socio-economic development process. Not just SDG 14, ladies and gentlemen – which provides the framework for our debate today – most of the SDGs have been integrated into Bhutan’s development programs. 

For example, an independent UNDP assessment in 2015 established the fact that 134 out of 143 SDG targets were already integrated into Bhutan’s 11th five year plan which began in 2013. In other words, Bhutan began to implement locally the SDG targets even two years before they were adopted globally. 

An effective pilot program began in 2008 targeting 14 poorest villages to eradicate extreme poverty. Based on its success, this intervention was upscaled five years later to address 104 more poor villages. Interventions now seek to go further to the margins. A total of 3154 poorest households have been identified thus far. 

As a result of such and many more interventions, the poverty rate of 23% in 2007 was halved in five years to 12% in 2012. We are ambitious of bringing it further down to 5% very soon.

Hon’ble President,

I must also mention that long before the introduction of parliamentary democracy, Bhutan’s enlightened monarchs have abolished a form of serfdom as well as capital punishment to deliver on human dignity and wellbeing. Bhutan’s socio-cultural tradition and legal instruments have always accorded equal status for women. To strengthen this further, we signed and ratified international and regional agreements to eliminate gender and racial discriminations as well as protect the rights of children and people with disabilities. With democracy, we have built upon this proud legacy of our monarchs by passing important national legislations such as the Domestic Violence Prevention Act and Childcare and Protection Act. 

This, Hon’ble President and Distinguished Delegates, is Bhutan’s story. Redressing inequalities begun at the margins. Rather than wait for trickle-down effect to redress inequalities, Bhutan is focused on direct interventions at community and household levels. In a just and harmonious society that we envision, inequalities should neither be visible nor experienced even at the margins! 

Thank you and Tashi Delek!

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!

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