Coronation and Expectations: a Story From Bhutan


By Govinda Rizal (Kyoto University)

Let November 6 come and the world’s media will be focused on Bhutan where the crown Prince Jigme Keshar Namgyal Wangchuk will put on the raven crown and replace his father on the golden throne.

The grand coronation and the felicitations to the new monarch will take place in the presence of hundreds of thousands of Bhutanese citizens and hundreds of invited VIP guests from abroad. The coronation of the fifth Druk Gyalpo (king of Bhutan) has other important implications too. The occasion coincides with the completion of a hundred years of rule by the monarchs from the Wangchuck dynasty.

Around the 1900s, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, a feudal lord of central Bhutan was instrumental in mobilizing British support on his favor, through his skill of interpretation and mediation between the British (then in India) and the Tibetans to rise above his contemporary neighboring feudal lords.

He established an institution of monarchy conglomerating numerous feudal states and principalities through tacit understandings and military power. He was crowned on December 17, 1907 as the first monarch.

The dual festivity of the coronation and the centennial of monarchy will extend for around two months.

On the occasion, the new king is to be conferred with several titles: the Druk Gyalpo, the youngest monarch in the present world, the First monarch for the newest democracy in the world; numerous epaulettes, honors and medals. In return, he will vow to serve the people and possibly bring out a fresh motto for his reign to prove he has his vision un-succumbed to and above his father’s populist philosophy of Gross National Happiness.

The new king has innumerable challenges to face, to establish his valor at par to his predecessors. He is warming up the golden throne at a time when the nation itself is traveling an unknown journey with a new system where the king, the government and the national institutions are held together by a constitution for the first time. Earlier kings had the freedom to use their logic and might. Unlike his father and grand fathers, the new king will sit and watch the members in the parliament elected by the people rule the country. The most bitter moment will be when they make rules and restrictions to chain him to a constitutional statuette. The citizens have immense respect and expectation from the monarchy and he has limitations to give back. The century of monarchial system has made the people believe that the king, country and state sovereignty go together as one.

He is expected to grant amnesty, if not to all, to a significant number of prisoners. Ironically, to magnify the statistics, many prisoners whose terms had expired as early as 2005 are being detained for the release on the auspicious occasion of the coronation. For mysterious reasons their release was not done when the country shifted from autocratic to constitutional monarchy.

The worst enemy to fight is on the economic front. The economic divide between the rich and poor is widening and extremism is growing. The precincts to topographic disadvantages have been a major hindrance to equitable and holistic development. He has, on one hand, to continue several tacit relationships established during his father’s era with the mighty northern dragon and whimsical southern elephant; on the other hand, he must ensure that the country passes to his descendants as smoothly as it has reached into his hand.

Looking back to match previous monarchs’ position numerically to their contribution to the nation; the monarchs in odd number turn are better remembered by historians and legendaries than the monarchs in even number turn. To keep up with this precedence, the fifth must do many great things. He has to complete and correct several misdeeds of his father’s reign and make new success stories for himself.

In 1990, the former king channeled the military to brutally run over a mass protest that made one sixth of the population flee the country and seek refuge elsewhere. He proclaimed to solve the problem within three years (deadline set to 1993) or else abdicate from the throne. He was unable to solve the problem even after 15 years. He failed in his part but kept the promise and abdicated from the golden throne premature to his age, in favor of his son, the new king.

The new king is hardly exposed to the realities outside the palace wall and school fence. He must have been convinced by what he had learned from the immediate people most of whom were the members shielding the former king. Even if he can assume to be ignorant of the refugees from his country, he will face serious questions in international arenas. To repatriate the people and make a harmonious whole by joining the factions divided long before, will be a test of his ability. The option remains that either he chooses to solve it or follow his father’s way to abdication.

The Year 1993 was the worst year for the former king. The country’s monetary reserves were almost gone. Most of the money was spent to pay people who left the country, to sponsor the evictors and to maintain a large army and militia. A request to India for supplementary funds met with a bargain, a flush out of United Liberation front of Asom (ULFA) fugitives from their hideouts in Bhutan, in return.

The rout was completed at the cost of the king meeting an accident on the way and one of the princes injured during the operation. Keeping such stories under pleasant smiles, the new king has to maintain cordial relationship with the present government in India as well as with several groups fighting against their governments in the neighborhood. More than the mutual relation with the center government in New Delhi, the new king must institute intimacy with Gangtok, Calcutta, Gauhati and Itanagar and possibly Darjeeling too, if the people win a separate state, for which they are struggling.

The former king who ascended the throne as a teenager could never come out of the cordon of his ministers, most of whom were relatives, family members and others, to exhibit his real potential and exert his influence. Often, he was a puppet of his ministers and an implementer of their sinister designs. For 26 years he was confined to a mere implicit ceremonial throne. For the first time in 1998, he shuffled his earlier cabinet and made his own choice to form a new one. The most fortunate part for the young monarch is the presence of his wise and weathered father. With long and bitter experiences, he is be the best aid and a guiding deity to the young monarch.

When the two giant neighbors with growing economies and nuclear strength go competitive; when the people continue to expect more and more, everything that was not achieved in the past hundred or more years; the young monarch will need the wisdom learned from Luntenzampa, Darjeeling, London and Paro, and his inborn potential; to politically save Bhutan, diplomatically prevent incursion; to lead the nation to a self sufficient Shangri-La; to guide the people for a meaningful living; to establish and maintain peace, prosperity and harmonious coexistence of the living and the non living entities of the Earth.