The flare up between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader on the issues of the Security Council bid and Bhutan’s foreign policy is a welcome debate on important issues but it has become controversial for the strong language used by the PM.
Though a hard and clean fought campaign, Bhutan had to face the harsh and unhealthy realities of international diplomacy securing only 20 votes, which would also not have been possible without the sincere efforts of those involved.
The Opposition leader echoing the sentiments of a considerable section in Bhutan questioned the very need to bid for the seat, its negative implications even if Bhutan won and the need to focus time and attention within the country. He also voiced concerns over the overall direction of Bhutan’s foreign policy for a small country located in a geo-strategically sensitive area.
The Prime Minister reacted strongly and some would also say emotionally terming the OL’s statements ‘very irresponsible and unpatriotic’ and not coming from a ‘loyal citizen’.
The Prime Minister’s emotional statement comes from the fact that he and his government invested much time and effort, especially the PM himself who put in his own strong personal effort behind the bid. It also stems from the fact that the PM has been the strongest force behind Bhutan’s foreign policy moves and is also closely associated with it as evidenced from his many visits abroad.
However, whatever the reason for the outburst, questioning the loyalty and patriotism of a citizen be it the Opposition leader or anyone else on grounds of criticism or feedback on any policy, foreign or domestic is neither democratic nor fair.
This is also not a single incident but part of a growing trend where government authorities backed into a corner either by a critical media or other critics, use terms like ‘Opposition Conspiracy’, ‘National Interest’, ‘affecting Bhutan’s image,’ and the latest addition of being ‘disloyal’, ‘unpatriotic’ or even better a ‘foreign spy’.
The latter additions are a particularly harsh and unfair criticism when viewed in the context of Bhutan being a small and vulnerable country between big giants, and therefore naturally anxious of its sovereignty and independence.
These criticisms in some ways are similar to the practice of ‘McCarthyism’ which is the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence. This term was coined after a Republican USA Senator, Joseph McCarthy who at the height of the cold war unleashed a wave of red terror in the USA from 1950-54 branding many innocent Americans as Communists without evidence leading to an atmosphere of terror and suspicion, loss of jobs and even imprisonments. Suspiciously, most of the so called ‘Communists’ were associated with his rival party. Subsequently these charges were thrown out by courts. This phase is regarded as one of the biggest challenges to democracy in America.
In dictatorial and backward nations like North Korea etc genuine political and social dissent is quelled by using the ‘patriotism’ card and fear of being branded as a ‘traitor’ by the state. Of course the definition of ‘traitor’ is such a state is not agreeing to every whim and fancy of the supreme dictator.
The last thing Bhutanese democracy needs is ‘McCarthyism’ where people in power feel they can define or set their own standards for patriotism and loyalty in a country which has no shortage of it.
Bhutanese politics is still developing and it will bode well if any kind of fear mongering or defamatory politics is not allowed to take root as it will only take the country backwards.
Real unpatriotic and anti national activities are occurring in our borders where for the last few months there have been ambush attacks on our security personnel some of which have been fatal. The government so far has not issued any statements on these attacks either in expressing support for the armed forces or condemning these attacks.
It is only His Majesty the King who has been actively engaged in boosting the morale of our armed forces, comforting the family of the deceased, visiting these places and taking an active interest in securing our sovereignty and security. At the same time His Majesty has not chided the elected government or anyone else for not being patriotic enough but has rather taken a huge burden silently.
The government’s labels on being unpatriotic instead of being thrown at terrorists armed to the teeth and out to harm the nation, are instead directed to the Opposition Leader, journalists and citizens at home just doing their jobs.
The government of the day must realize that exercising constitutional rights to express genuine dissent, criticizing policies or even exposing graft is the highest form of patriotism.
“The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher plain. “