Quite a few people were recently surprised to see images of the former Prime Minister and PDP President Dasho Tshering Tobgay undertaking a regular De-Suung course.
The general feedback was positive but there was no explanation on why the former PM had joined the program in the first place and what he learnt from it.
Dasho said, “It was an integrated training course for three weeks and the average age was 24 making me the Grandpa of the group as someone who is 53 and soon going on 54.”
He said his 350 batch mates of the 41st accelerated De-Suung program were mostly students who finished high school, college students, tour guides, farmers and others doing various other businesses.
Explaining his motivation, he said, “Since the inception of the De-Suung program I have been drawn towards it and applauded its service to the King, Country and People, particularly during times of disaster. I have attended its many passing out parades as a speaker and guest and have interacted with DeSuups.”
“DeSuups in action with boots on the ground was to me a physical manifestation of His Majesty’s Royal vision for the De-Suung,” he added.
Dasho said that with the COVID-19 Pandemic and His Majesty successfully leading the fight against it from the front he, like every other Bhutanese, wanted to be a part of the fight and what better way then joining the De-Suung program.
The former PM said that he was drawn to the Royal vision articulated in His Majesty leading the COVID fight from the front.
“His Majesty has been working day and night and crisscrossing the whole country and especially in the southern borders so much so that His Majesty did not even give himself some time during the birth of the Second Royal Child,” said Dasho.
Dasho said that as he watched the first address of His Majesty announcing the closure of the border he felt very afraid about what the pandemic could do to a small and fragile country but also very fortunate that His Majesty was at the helm to lead the fight and take care of every Bhutanese.
The former PM said that it is important to understand that the training given under De-Suung is not the actual service but it is what you do after the training.
He said the training in fact incurs a lot of cost and therefore it does not make sense to only undergo training if one wants to serve. He said that with so much money spent on training him he better put himself to good use.
The former PM said that he wanted to join the very first De-Suung program in response to COVID-19 which was the 38th batch but he had come from outside and had just finished his two-week quarantine when it got extended by another week.
He then applied for the 39th program but he withdrew when he saw a large number of youth applying and also questioning why they were not being given a chance over older people.
He then applied for the 40th batch but just a few days before the start of the program he developed Gout on his foot and had to withdraw again.
Dasho said that given all the above instances he was very unsure if he could do the program or even complete it due to unforeseen circumstances.
Dasho said that he has contacted the De-Suung office and requested them to use him in any capacity without any conditions but he requested that he would like to also do some border patrolling.
On being asked how he adjusted from being the former PM to training with youths he said he did not feel at all uncomfortable even as the Grandpa of the group. He said his former posts are in the past and he is currently a private citizen and so enjoyed training, eating and working with his colleagues at the Jigmeling training center.
Dasho said that given that he takes care of his health he did not have any issue with the physical exercises and he was also able to make do with the minimal sleep. His only initial issue was with the group punishments but he later found out that this was deliberately done to enhance better command, control and coordination, especially during times of disaster.
On being asked about potential criticism that this was a political move Dasho said that if some politicians see this as a political tool or of political value then all he can do is to suggest to his fellow politicians to join the De-Suung service and serve.
He said there have been other politicians before him who have joined the DeSuups and he has nothing but praise for them.
Dasho said that he is very clear about not mixing the two as there is thin line which he is very careful not to cross.
“Even during the De-Suung training some approached me to talk about politics but I refused to discuss it. Then when I go on patrolling or duty I will never discuss politics with fellow DeSuups.”
Talking about the reaction of younger DeSuups to him while training, Dasho, with a laugh, said that while the youths said they were inspired and motivated to see him there, he suspects that they were amused to see an old man struggle among them.
He said his batch mates at the training program were nothing less than family and as His Majesty says people who sweat together stay together.
He said his PDP colleagues wanted to drop him to the training, attend the passing out parade and also receive him on the way back but he made it very clear that his post as the PDP President cannot be mixed with that of DeSuups and so he said no to all of this.
Dasho said that in fact some of his party colleagues had already joined DeSuups earlier and some were volunteering with the Red Cross Society.
On his learnings from the program, Dasho that it taught him about physical fitness, mental discipline and provided an education on a range of issues like on COVID-19, first aid, disaster relief, crowd control, check point manning and patrolling among other things.
He said that even though he is 53 a lot of the information and education for him was eye opening and so it would definitely also have a more positive impact on the 20 year olds training with him.
Dasho said that the program also helped him to get a better insight into his fellow citizens and particularly the youth.
“I got a better insight into their unquestioning loyalty to His Majesty The King and a readiness to serve the Tsa-Wa-Sum. I mean you hear them speak out about it but to experience it was quite something else,” said Dasho.
Dasho said he got two interesting insights into the youths after the program.
He said the first is that given that De-Suung is a first come first serve program and there are no interviews and physical checks like for military recruits, people of all types and fitness levels come in.
“However, when I met these youths there is a common passion about service and loyalty to the King and the Tsa-Wa-Sum and they all do well. To me this is a story of hope and joy of the potential of our youth,” said Dasho.
Dasho said that the second insight is that in this program it took 350 men and women who are largely young and trained them as worthy DeSuups to serve His Majesty’s vision.
“After just one week the youths could march lock in step,” said Dasho.
He said that while this speaks to the quality of the training program the fact that 350 youths put themselves out there, are motivated, are from different backgrounds and can be trained well speaks volumes about the quality of the youth. “Our youths can be trained,” said Dasho.
Dasho said that what heartened him was also the fact that many had left behind very young families to come and serve. He said there were those like him who had repeatedly applied but had been rejected. Dasho said there were also several who were unemployed despite several efforts to find a job. Dasho said that there were also youth who got back from the middle-east and other places and immediately joined the DeSuups to serve the country.
Dasho said what he and the others have learnt would stick with them throughout their lives.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering congratulated the former Prime Minister for completing De-suung training program in Jigmeling, Sarpang.
Dr Lotay said, “Your participation is exemplary, given the fact that you saw through the training among the company of youth. I have no doubt you would have motivated them, served as a figure to look up to. You would have brought along enthusiasm and energy, as our young Bhutanese sought this noble pursuit of safeguarding our nation. These are unprecedented times, and such actions add thrusts and renews spirit of our front-liners. Together, we will serve His Majesty The King in this fight against the pandemic.”