It need hardly be said it is an honour and a pleasure to have been asked to write a special tribute to his Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo of the Kingdom of Bhutan. However, I must confess that I am probably the least qualified of all the contributors to this volume that celebrates the sixtieth birthday of His Majesty. My links with Bhutan came through my late husband, Michael Aris, whom I met through a mutual friend while I was studying at Oxford and he at Durham. Michael’s interest in Tibet had been sparked off when he read Henrich Harrer’s “Seven Years in Tibet’ as a schoolboy; by the time he was a university student, this interest had broadened to cover the whole of what is now termed ‘Himalayan studies.’ It therefore did not come as a surprise that immediately after he obtained his university degree he went off to a job in Bhutan.
I cannot recollect if I had heard of Bhutan before Michael told me about it but after he became tutor to the two youngest daughters of His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck I quickly learnt much about this remote Himalayan country. After Michael and I were married in 1972, we lived in Thimphu and I came to know some of the members of the Royal Family but the only time I ever caught a glimpse of the then seventeen year old HRH Jigme Singye Wangchuck was at celebrations related to his investiture as Crown Prince. Not too long after this event, the Third Druk Gyalpo passed away at the relatively young age of forty five.
Looking back to that time, what strikes me is that despite the grief of the people of Bhutan at the unexpected loss of their King, there was a calm confidence that all would be well under the new monarch, young as he was. In retrospect, that was the greatest tribute the people could have given to both their old ruler and their yet untried new one. They believed that Bhutan would be safe in the hands of their Druk Gyalpo.
Michael and I left Bhutan in 1973 but we continued to keep up with developments in the country. The picture that emerged of the reign of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo was one of great changes shaped by a vision that was sensitive to the legacy of the past as well as to the needs of the future. We met more and more young Bhutanese who had benefitted from the farsighted education policy of the government. Their confidence and enthusiasm with regard to the place of their small country in the big world was certainly a tribute to their government, headed by their King. His view that Gross National Happiness was more important than Gross National Product is an illustration of the mixture of old style patriarchal monarchy and modern governance that set the tone of his reign.
After 1988, my political work in Bhutan distanced me from old friends and once familiar places but I continued to get news of Bhutan from time to time. There were challenges and changes but the general impression was one of steady progress along the path of modernization without undue damage to what was most precious in this beautiful Himalayan kingdom. The sensible development course chosen by the King gave his subjects both security and pride.
That His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck was not just an able ruler but also a warm and caring human being was brought home to me when Michael became ill with cancer in 1999: the Druk Gyalpo made arrangements for special prayers to be said in Bhutan for Michael’s health. I know this gave him much comfort during his last days.
As my only contact with the then Crown Prince in 1972 was but a fleeting glimpse, my contribution to this volume of tributes is no more than fleeting glimpses from afar. The last glimpse was provided by the Prime Minister of Bhutan, H.E. Lyonchen Tshering Tobgay, when he came to Burma earlier this year. The Prime Minister represents the kind of young leader I would like to see emerging in my country, in our world: capable, intelligent, well educated, energetic and most likable. He told me about recent political developments in his country and explained that it was the policies of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo that had made it possible for him, a young man of humble origins, to become the head of government. He also expressed the utmost confidence in the arrangement that had been made by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck to abdicate at the age of 51 in favour of his twenty-six year old son: their Druk Gyalpo could be depended on to do what would be best for their country.
The greatest tribute that could be given to His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck is not anything that could be written in a book but in the Gross National Happiness that he has made possible for his people.
By daw aung san suu kyi
54-56 University Avenue
The writer is the Chairman of the National League for Democracy party in Myanmar that recently won a landslide majority in the Myanmar General Elections. Earlier she was one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners kept under house arrest for 15 years over a 21 year period until her 2010 release. The article is an Extract from the soon to be released book, ‘The Bodhisattva King’ by Tshering Tashi & Thierry Mathou.