Celebrating a Golden King and a golden era

As our best and most ambitious politicians have found out in the last eight years; it is not easy to govern Bhutan.

Now, minus all the development, systems and infrastructure achieved in the last five decades since 1972 and add a lot more problems and governance will seem next to impossible.

In a rare interview given to an American Journalist in the mid 90’s His Majesty the Fourth King said, “Being King is like taking an examination that never ends. Except you don’t have the right to fail.”

In June 1972 after the death of His Majesty the Third King, His Majesty the King entered the Guinness book of World Records as the youngest head of state as His Majesty was only a tender 16.

Bhutan in 1972 was just at the start of its development process and so many of the socio-economic benefits and infrastructure we take for granted today was not available. Geopolitically it was also a very tricky time as demonstrated by the annexation of Sikkim to India in 1975.

His Majesty, at a very young age was put in charge of a still largely medieval state and he had a very difficult responsibility of transforming Bhutan into a modern nation, strong and secure about its security and sovereignty.

This responsibility was made tougher, because with absolute power came absolute responsibility, as everybody from His Majesty’s ministers to His Majesty’s subjects looked only to him for delivery.

Even the absolute power at the time was not over a modern and well functioning state but a very small, isolated and poor Kingdom with minimal government machinery.

In bigger and richer countries leaders were supported by a vast infrastructure and systems and had t only do some minor tinkering to succeed.

In the case of His Majesty the Fourth King he had to build that very system and infrastructure that our politicians can afford to tinker with today.

If Bhutan’s story was compared to that of a person it is a story of ‘rags to riches’ in almost every sense. This magical and rapid transformation from a still largely medeval state to a modern one was achieved by the extraordinary King.

Given the huge mountains of challenges before Bhutan it would have required a mountain of a person to overcome them.

A common observation, be it by His Majesty’s own former courtiers or by foreign leaders, is the sheer strength of personality and will of His Majesty the Fourth King.

Indian politicians, especially in Delhi, are among the toughest and shrewdest in the world. Right after the coronation in 1974 His Majesty travelled to India for a state visit and among others met the tougher of these two politicians in the form of the then Home Minister and Foreign Minister.

According to a close former member of His Majesty’s court, before the meeting, the body language of these two much older and more experienced ministers was almost bordering on overconfidence given that they were meeting a very young Monarch.

However, after the meeting their body language completely changed as His Majesty dominated the discussions. At the end their body language had become more alert and respectful.

So where does this sheer will and strength of personality come from? A lot of it comes from a deep, fierce and passionate love for his country starting from a very early age.

Even at a very young age while studying in England, an English classmate recalled in an article how even as a young boy His Majesty talked with a great sense of passion and love about Bhutan, its mountains, valleys, rivers, Dzongs and people.

Apart from being a born leader His Majesty from a young age showed many remarkable personality traits. One was his sense of magnanimity and ability to accommodate a host of characters around him seeing and getting the best out of each one of them.

Another was the sheer physical and mental stamina of His Majesty where His Majesty had the ability to go to the next level while others around him gave up or were ready to give up.

It is said that a good leader leads by example and this was another trait visible in His Majesty. Even to this day while most people are more relaxed about wearing casual clothes outside government offices, His Majesty can be seen playing basketball and cycling dressed in Gho.

People know about how His Majesty led Bhutan’s armed forces from the front to a great victory in the 2003 Operation All Clear but many do not know about His Majesty’s sacrifices for years before the actual Operations.

His Majesty according to the Goonglen, for three years, travelled every inch of territory from the east to the west where the operations were to be launched. His Majesty did this to personally study the terrain and the militants so that His Majesty could come up with a plan that would be successful and minimize the loss of life.

In this long journeys through some of the most difficult and untraveled terrains of Bhutan sometimes the reconnaissance party would run out of food and His Majesty would sleep hungry. His Majesty also had to sleep in mosquito infested forests. This was all done with great personal risk to His Majesty as the militant camps and militants would not be very far away.

However, once the operations were over His Majesty commanded that injured militants be given priority over our own soldiers. They were given food and care and treated humanely. His Majesty also forbade any celebrations.

For those not in the know the government over the past few months has been playing a cat and mouse game on the 60th anniversary celebrations. Many may be wondering why there has been no widespread publicity for the 60th birth anniversary celebrations by the government. This is because His Majesty the Fourth King asked the government not to do anything big or spend money and instead just focus on its own normal governance.

However, the people and the government, with blessing from His Majesty the King, are determined for once, not to heed His Majesty the Fourth King’s well meaning directive and instead will go all out in celebrating His Majesty the Fourth King’s diamond jubilee.

It is after all the least we can do in remembering and celebrating Bhutan’s magnificent rise under His Majesty the Fourth King.

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”

 Albert Schweitzer


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