By Maharajakrishna Rasgotra
Bhutan was different from both Nepal and Sikkim. The King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who ruled the country from 1952-1975, was apprehensive about China’s expansionism and wanted india to strengthen its defences by reorganising, reaffirming and training its small army. On the king’s request, a programme of building a network of roads and of strengthening the administration was undertaken on an emergency basis soon after the China-India war of October-November 1962. A decision had been taken in New Delhi in the late 1950s to help develop Bhutan’s international personality and at a mutually agreed time, to sponsor Bhutan’s application for UN membership.
One episode stands out in my memory of my dealing with Bhutan in those days, While the Wanchuks were the reigning monarchs, the Dorji clan held the prime ministership of the country. Jigme Dorji, an able and affable man, who apparently commanded considered influence in the country was the prime minister. He and his young brother Lhendup Dorji, who also held high position under his brother, were frequent visitors to Delhi for a variety of negotiations and I saw a good deal of both during their talks with out authorities and also socially. Lhendup Dorji, who was more or less my age, became a good friend of mine. Because of the power Jigme Dorji wielded as prime minister, he had made enemies in the country. On 6 April 1964, he was shot dead by an assassin who made good his escape after committing the crime.
Lhendup Dorji, who immediately took over as Bhutan’s prime minister, suspected, quite unjustly I believe, that in some indirect way the king was responsible for his brother’s assassination. So, one day without prior information one of Lhendup’s confidants who showed up at my residence to say, in a roundabout way, that Lhendup wanted to avenge his family’s loss by ousting the Wangchuks, ‘one way or another’, and that he was hoping for my support! I was shocked by the message, and bluntly told Lhendup’s friend that the government of India, or I personally, were not in that kind of business. And I advised him to leave Delhi at once and tell Lhendup to get on with his sovereign.
On hearing my response, Lhendup must have thought the news of his improper approach to me might leak; he panicked and chose voluntary exile in Nepal. Two or three days later, when the news broke that Bhutan’s prime minister had fled his country and found asylum in Nepal, Secretary General M J Desai asked me to look into this sudden development in Bhutan. I told him what had happened, and explained that I had avoided asking Lehndup’s friend to wait in Delhi till after I had spoken to him (Desai) or to Foreign Secretary Gundevia, because I did not want to give the impression that anyone in Delhi would give such a nefarious idea even a moment’s consideration. Desai said I had done the right thing and I should now just forget all about it, and he would find a way of alerting the king about his security. He advised that I should keep a discreet eye on Lhendup’s activities in Nepal. Lhendup did not receive any encouragement from any quarter in Kathmandu and settled down to a quite, unpretentious life as an expert chicken farmer.
Nine or ten years later, when I was India’s ambassador in Nepal, he came to see me, he was a very repentant and saddened man, terribly home sick for Bhutan and asked me to do something to enable him to return to his own country where he wanted to live peacefully as a loyal citizen. When an appropriate occasion arose, I did the needful. The new monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuk graciously allowed him to return to Bhutan where he lived in mildly restricted freedom, did some farming, played a lot of golf and died peacefully in 2007.
Bhutan’s monarchy is a stable institution commanding respect, loyalty and affection of the people. Without ambition for direct autocratic personal rule, King Jimge Singye Wangchuk, in order to accustom his people to the responsibility of self-rule, took the initiative to institute and elected assembly and the cabinet government responsible to it. There was no demand or pressure on him from any quarter from those important political reforms. After the system became fully functional under his benign watch for some time, he voluntarily abdicated in favour of his son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, who is following the path charted by his father and is a popular king with modern outlook. There is a rare example of an all-powerfil monarch guiding his people to democratic self-rule under a constitutional monarchy. All this bodes well for Bhutan’s progress, prosperity and stability.
(From his recently published book – A life in Diplomacy)