A choice between unity or chaos

Though around nine months have passed since the 2013 elections the impact and after effects of the bitter and tough race still linger in the air.

This is apparent in the highly polarized views and stand taken by party supporters and even ordinary citizens on various issues and decisions.

It is understandable for parties and ordinary people to be more charged and even have strong differences during elections, but we should start worrying when these divisions either keep widening or don’t heal fast enough well after the race is over.

The issue here is not to blame any particular party of individual but to see it as a collective problem. The issue here is also not to confuse unity with the lack of democratic criticism or checking and balancing power.

The aftermath of the 2008 elections saw the first big political schism in Bhutan where communities and even families got divided on political lines. However, a resilient society healed itself and soon everything was back to what it was.

The division of 2008 facilitated by the entry of party politics, though ugly and painful in some respects, was also necessary at the time as democracy is all about competing political parties and personalities, where people have a choice to select the one they find better or more capable.

The 2013 elections was a bitterer affair, and Bhutan came face to face with the much uglier side of competitive South Asian politics, which saw among other things, efforts to rake up regionalism to gain political dividends.

There is nothing normal or desirable about the divisions arising out of the 2013 elections which seem to be deeper and farther reaching with possible long term consequences.

The divisions seem to be deeper because even after the passing of nine months the flames of anger and conflict are yet to die down reflected in the polarization over even over the most mundane issues. For example some people have stopped viewing even national issues through facts and national interest but entirely on party lines and whom it affects in their party.

The divisions seem to be farther reaching because it has impacted a lot more people than in 2008 from the elite of our society, to government functionaries to ordinary citizens.

While the spirit of competitive politics are always welcome for a healthy democracy there are also examples of many countries across the world that have had much destruction and suffering over political differences.

Bhutan as a small and vulnerable country cannot afford a high level of political strife and divisions which is well reflected in the very History of Bhutan.

Before Zhabdrung unified Bhutan it consisted of competing warlords and religious sects in different valleys all vulnerable to civil wars and foreign interventions.

A unified Bhutan under the genius of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal saw political, economic, cultural, social and religious gains. The people did well, there was peace and Bhutan became a strong regional player enhancing its territory well into Bengal and Assam. Bhutan to its credit also held off and defeated invasions from bigger neighbors.

However, after this era Bhutan gave into political divisions made easier by the isolated valleys where each valley found its own lord, difficult communication and transport lines, differing regions and languages and the ambitions of different warlords. Bhutanese history thus shows that given the geography and other factors traditional state politics in Bhutan had a proclivity to divide the country among competing warlords and regions.

The ordinary people suffered the most in these civil wars which is well documented by the early British visitors to Bhutan who kept detailed dairies. They talk of how entire villages were unoccupied, fields left unplanted, the utter poverty of the people, how ordinary houses wore the look of destruction and disrepair and how whole populations were reduced or forced to constantly migrate.

It was also in this time that the British taking advantage of the civil strife and also unsure which authority to deal with in Bhutan annexed large amounts territory that had either earlier been conquered by Bhutan or came under its sphere of influence.

It was only after the establishment of the Institution of Monarchy in 1907 that Bhutan saw an end to hundreds of years of divisions and civil strife. There was once again political unity accompanied by unprecedented stability and prosperity under the wise and compassionate rule of our Kings.

Bhutan as a small country surrounded by now even bigger neighbors and an ever changing global economic and political landscape cannot let our divisions and differences become so insurmountable that it affects the national well being.

Both political leaders and ordinary people while having their democratic differences should be able to work together for the national good and not even allow the shadow of a dark past to ever fall on Bhutan again.

Bhutan is lucky to have a wise and visionary Monarchy which has held and unified this country together for more than a century and in the process taken Bhutan from the medieval and feudal ages to the modern ages.

Now that the Monarchy has entrusted the people with political power we have to use it in a matured manner to build a strong nation and move ahead and stop squabbling like petty warlords of the past pulling a nation apart for limited and narrow objectives.

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”

Winston Churchill

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