By S. Chandrasekharan
The major event since the last update has been the royal wedding on 13th October, 2011. It was a grand function and a mesmerising one as the Indian Ambasador put it.
The 31 year old King Jigme Namgyel Wangchuk married and crowned Jetsun Pema, the commoner’s daughter in a solemn and colourful Buddhist ceremony in the ancient capital of Punakha.
The ceremony was carried out in the traditional manner to the last detail by the spiritual head- His holiness Je Khenpo at the Punakha Dzhong followed by day long celebrations at Thimpu on the 15th.
The festivities that followed were devoid of extravagance and not many VIPs from outside the country were invited. Infact, it was said that the marriage was a “family affair” and rightly so, as the family referred was about those in Bhutan!
The only break from the tradition was the public display of affection by the King towards the Queen on the 15th at Thimpu and this proved to be immensely appreciated by the huge and enthusiastic crowds in the capital.
What one noticed was the genuine affection of the people during the marriage ceremony with people vying with each other to get a glimpse of the royal couple. This popularity is not a little due to the members of the royalty who have stayed out of controversies and have been immensely popular. Mention should be made of the present King’s father Druk Gyalpo 4 who seemed to have had a benign influence on the people.
It is almost certain that Druk Gyalpo 4 continues to be the guiding factor in the overall progress of the country towards democracy.
The Refugee Issue:
As of 15th December, a total of 58,412 refugees have been resettled in third countries. Thus the total population in the camps has been brought down to less than half.
The United States had taken the largest number with 49,012 followed by Canada 4195, Australia 3197, Denmark 612, New Zealand 589, Norway 372, Netherlands 324 and the United Kingdom 111.
According to UNHCR, there are still around 54,972 refugees. This is still a huge number and not all can be accommodated in third countries. The US initially was willing to take only 60,000 refugees and thus only 11000 are to be taken.
Of the camps, the Goldhap camp is already closed and the one at Timai is being closed with the occupants being moved to Sanichare and Beldangi II camps.
Fortunately, both Nepal and Bhutan are not talking about further inter-ministerial meeting or about joint verification meetings for the return of the refugees! It cannot be denied either that many of the occupants of the camps still seem to have hopes of returning to Bhutan.
They perhaps do not realise that Bhutan is unlikely to take any refugee back even if they happen to be Bhutanese citizens. ( One example- are those verified to be Bhutanese citizens by the Joint Verification Teams of the Kudenabari camp and not one has retuned to Bhutan!).
One could not have missed the irony of a few hundreds of refugees who assembled in Beldangi II camp to mark the 104th National day of Bhutan and recall the installation of monarchy on December 17, 1907. They seem to have hopes!
There is still pressure on authorities to admit people seeking asylum as refugees. This may be due to the incentive in getting free food and shelter besides having a chance to go abroad.
It is also certain that there will be a considerable number of refugees left after completion of those willing and eligible for third country settlement.
The question would be- what does one do with this large number? It is also quite possible that there will be a larger number of radicalised elements left as residue who have the potential to adversely affect the law and order situation.
Two days prior to the wedding, there was an incident of twin blasts at Phoentsoling opposite Pelijorling hotel. An underground outfit with the name “United revoutionary Front of Bhutan” claimed responsibility and in a statement signed by its chief Karma said that the blasts “on the eve of the royal wedding was to draw the attention of the King towards the gross national sufferings of the Bhutanese people.”
It is time the camps are wound up. These have become the breeding ground for lawless elements. Perhaps India could take the lead in absorbing some numbers. At any rate of those left out, many would drift towards India once the camps are closed.
While the economy is not seeing any downslide, the question of closing the trade gap with India continues to be of concern to the authorities. The trade deficit in general last year was Nu 9.76 bn. The increase in deficit is attributed to acceleated construction of hydro power projects and other development activities. The deficit with India alone was 3.34bn.
It is estimated that Bhutan has to pay an interest alone of over 2million Nu a day to India. This includes the overdraft facility obtained from India and the borrowing from State Bank of India at enhanced interest rates. The country’s rupee reserves have also steadily gone down to a negative of 4140.18 million at the end of June last year. Bhutan had to sell its foreign currency amounting to 200 million US dollars to meet the deficit. Perhaps the line of credit from India could be increased at nominal interest rates. Bhutan deserves all the help that India can provide.
What Bhutan is looking for is to have more Indian investments in education, health, tourism and IT sectors. This should be possible.
The issue of funding the political parties for the elections is yet to be resolved. The two major political parties are yet to repay the debt incurred during the last elections. Given the limited resources of the parties it is but reasonable to fund the parties. What is happening in India when huge cash is being unearthed on the eve of elections should not be repeated in Bhutan!.For a democracy that is settling down, it is better to solve the issue now rather than wait for better times.