Being an intelligent Patriot

The hot air being generated on social media about the RGB’s recent decision to put on hold the road construction projects in the south is, damaging and disgusting. It is good in itself that there is debate and different viewpoints are aired. We learn from such exchanges and indeed, if they are conducted in civilized fashion, they are the essence of a democratic system.

However, there has been this unfortunate tendency from the word go in the new online, politicized society for any discussion threads to quickly degenerate into blaming, name-calling, hardening of narrow positions resulting in the complete breakdown of communication. Nobody is the wiser and all we have done is to show our ignorance and stupidity.

Our Monarchs have entrusted us with democracy and if this is how we exercise one of its principal ingredients – freedom of expression – it will not be promoted but damaged and our beloved Kings must be disappointed, perhaps even disgusted!

The fact that the road construction projects in the south have been stalled indefinitely has understandably upset many people. Count me in! But when I read the reasons expounded by the PM, I found them substantive, relevant and credible. On the other hand, I saw not a single reasonable refutation from any detractor, apart from a lot of emotional outbursts and knee-jerk volley of accusations ranging from the absurd to the ridiculous.

The detractors have labeled the PM and his Cabinet as being guileless, spineless traitors who have sold the nation to India.

Pretty heavy stuff!

But none of the detractors have offered any suggestions to the real issues at hand. How can the road construction go ahead given the clear and present dangers posed by the volatile security situation in the adjoining areas of Assam and West Bengal? Even if we were able, by some miracle, to complete this huge project, how are we to ensure the safety of the road users in these jungles, which are havens for militants, thugs and goondas of all shades?

These are not just some imagined excuses dreamt up for political expediency but genuine, ground realities. And they are serious issues that we have to deal with our neighbor in an atmosphere of trust, mutual respect and genuine understanding of each other’s problems. Trumped-up and false accusations highlighting every conceivable negative angle will serve nobody’s interests, least of all our own, for we are the vones with everything at stake here.

What solutions have the detractors provided? Zilch, zero. And the reason is simple. There are not many options at our disposal. The only one I can think of offhand is making the roads further away from the border, which can connect our southern villages without having to depend on the roads of our neighbor.

The other important issue I want to touch upon is that of our all-important relations with India. Our self-declared patriots are going like a bull in a china shop on this sensitive issue.

Indo-Bhutan relations are indeed, very close – perhaps a bit too close for comfort. But the die has been cast and we have thrown our lot with India – lock, stock and barrel since the Chinese absorption of Tibet.

And we have been reaping the benefits thus far. And there is no reason why we cannot do so.

Let us not get carried away with wild emotions here. India has been giving far more to us than to its own citizens. They have hundreds of millions of their own citizens struggling with the most basic needs. Now someone quoted the former US Secretary of State Kissinger, who in turn borrowed words from the dictum of English statesman Lord Palmerston to the effect that in saying that nations do not have permanent friends or allies, only interests.

India is generous to Bhutan not purely because of love and friendship, but because in doing so, it is protecting its own vital national interests. Now accepting the generous assistance (and advancing our own national interests), we are beholden to accept certain costs. Between nations too, I’m afraid, there is no such thing as free lunch! By treaty and by tradition, friends and allies protect each other’s vital interests as well. Some self-sacrifice is obviously involved in doing so..

Being who we are comes with clear limitations. There is no need for anyone to spell it out in masochistic detail, even for our bravado-driven, self-declared patriots. I advise them to engage in a bit of clear thinking with cold heads when they get tired of their chest-beating in an unfounded orgy of machismo on our self-evident vulnerabilities and attendant limited options. They will, I’m sure, appreciate we have not been dealt many aces in our hand. And that is why we need to play with great skill, discretion and gumption. We have very little margin of error.

We cannot afford this kind of divisiveness that has been the unintended and I’m sure the unexpected result of party politics in our little community. We must appreciate that DPT, PDP, DNT, DCT – these are just labels of small political organizations that have been formed so that we can exercise the business of democratic governance. They are not meant to divide and weaken our tiny community even more. Their leaders are not meant to become megalomaniacs, who, if left unchecked may even have delusions of grandeur to think they could displace our Monarchs! We cannot survive without our Monarchs. But politicians they are figures whom we must try out as temporary leaders and discard them if they don’t serve us well. They are dispensable. But give them a chance. And be fair.

Let’s get our fundamentals right. Let’s engage in fair discussions whose objective must be to throw light and generate alternatives and viable solutions. In doing so it is essential that we respect the viewpoint of others, even if they are opposite to our own dearly held conviction. Treat diversity with compassion and respect – that’s how we learn new ideas and progress to become better human beings. Misguided, egoistic people with selfish agendas and politically motivated axes to grind will only generate dust and heat and blind us with bitterness, negativity and hatred in the name of patriotism.

Remember, Samuel Johnson’s famous saying that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. Beware of false patriots and remember His Majesty’s constant call to be intelligent patriots!

Opinion by Menda

A Private citizen.

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