By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
On August 26, 2010, representative of the political parties of Bhutan in exile, announced the formation of an umbrella organisation to pursue a “unified democratic movement” under the leadership of Rongthong Kunley Dorji, President of the Druk National Congress. (DNC). Others present were Teknath Rijal, Chairman of Bhutanese Movement Steering Committee (BMSC), Balaram Paudyel, President of Bhutan People’s Party (BPP), and D.N.S. Dhakal, Executive Chief of the Bhutan National Democratic Party (BNDP).
The party recently opened its office in Kathmandu at Boudha on November 10 and discussed their strategy and the movement goals. Issues relating to inclusive democracy, repatriation and participation of exiled political parties were said to have been discussed.
This organisation appears to have the blessings of the present Nepal Government. Earlier, Prime Minister Madhav Nepal is said to have promised Kunley Dorji, the chief of this umbrella organisation that his government would support the democratic struggle of the Bhutanese citizens.
Five Points of Action
In the meeting of August, the leaders spelt out the five points of action for the movement. These included:
1. The exiled political parties and the exiled Bhutanese must be permitted to participate in the forthcoming elections. ( The only election that is still due is the election to the local bodies.)
2. The Bhutanese refugees must be repatriated with full dignity and honor and must be allowed to participate in the political process. Called upon the international community to pressurise Bhutan to take back its citizens.
3. Immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in prison since 1990s.
4. To promote and strengthen the existing bonds of friendship at the people to people level among the citizens of Bhutan, India and Nepal.
5. To extend thanks to the international community and all well-wishers of the Bhutanese democratic struggle and seek support and solidarity.
While it is perfectly acceptable, in fact laudable to call for the release of all political prisoners and to work actively for the release as also for strengthening the people to people relationship of the people of the three countries Nepal, Bhutan and India, what is perplexing is their call for a democratic struggle and repatriation back to Bhutan with “honour and dignity.”
By the year end over 40, 000 refugees would have been settled in third countries with USA taking the bulk of the refugees. Another 30,000 are poised to follow the settlement process. Is it the intention of this new group to stop further settlement? For almost twenty years these groups as well as the Nepal Government could do nothing to force Bhutan to take back a single refugee and are they now going to prevent the refugees from going abroad?
They should also not forget that by the indiscreet and unacceptable actions of a few radical political elements before 1990 that precipitated a situation where innocent and apolitical Lhotsmpas were driven to penury and lead a miserable life in the camps for many years.
Since the international communities found themselves to be helpless in persuading Bhutan to take back its citizens, it took a humanitarian view and thanks to the initiative of some of the western countries, the refugees are now getting a chance to pick up their lives once again and live with dignity. Should this new group discourage others waiting to go? If so, what is the alternative they have in mind?
They should not therefore start one now that will result in more innocent people being driven out! Are they in a position to help them? Will the Nepal Government be able to prevent this?
The Bhutan Government will continue to claim that it “will take back its citizens” if this is the declaration they want from Bhutan. But the contention of Bhutan was and would continue to be that the refugees are not Bhutanese citizens, not withstanding the fact that almost 70 to 80 percent of the refugees would come under categories I and II of the so called “slotting system” devised cleverly by Bhutan and accepted foolishly by the then government of Nepal.
On the question of democratic struggle, a case could be made out that it is not inclusive with one seventh of the population ( I mean refugees) being kept out of the political process. But it cannot be said that there is no democracy in Nepal. The new constitution under which elections were held has many innovative provisions and what is seen, democracy is taking deep roots. Recently in the first ever case of the opposition challenging a government order as unconstitutional, the court accepted the plea of the opposition.
For some reason, the rate of application for third country settlement is slowing down. It could be due to the recent activities of the present “umbrella group” or due to some of the “bad” stories coming from those settled. Those settled in Europe find themselves isolated and have problems of language. The educated ones are getting absorbed in the job market in US but the less educated ones are finding the competition ruthless. Many suffer from depressions and there was a recent case of a girl hardly 20 committing suicide in US.
In the camps, there are increasing cases of family separation. Tension in Beldangi camp is so high that some of the refugee leaders have approached the CDO of Jhapa district to settle the family disputes.
The radical cadres of the Bhutan communist party (Maoist) are not idle either. They are biding their time. They are also seen to be pushing the refugees not to go for third country settlement but to demand repatriation or absorption in Nepal.
The year 2011 may yet therefore see another round of refugee activity demanding repatriation.