Bhutan Celebrates The Birth of Democracy


There are rulers, and then there are enlightened rulers. On one hand we have the Kind of Nepal who had to be deposed, and on the other hand we have King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan, an enlightened ruler who decided that in today's modern world his country needs democracy, and abdicated in its favor. And so, yesterday the kingdom had its first democratic election, over seen by the educated son of King Wangchuck.

This is a huge statement in a region that is rife with people's unrequited desire to define their own government, a region that could aptly be called "rough neighborhood". To the north is Tibet currently in news for the violent crackdown of a repressive and authoritarian Chinese communist regime. Further to the east is Burma, a country ruled by military junta famous for its own excesses, and of course to the west is Nepal, where the people had to throw the Royals out! Only to the south does Burma see any hope - in India, its much larger neighbor.

The first few years will be tough for this new democracy, mainly because the people have such reverence for their king, they just can't see how they will do without him. The stature of the king in the eyes of his subjects (unlike the British monarchs who are viewed more as a curiosity tarnished by their own excesses, the Royalty in Bhutan is revered as descendants of Gods). Burmese still look to the King for guidance, and so it may be a while before the democracy builds courage to stand on its own feet, and wean itself from the Royal "guidance".

But India can help! India can help by providing the newest democratic country in the world the moral, economic and institutional support. The biggest need early on would be the support needed to build institutions. The new Bhutanese legislators will need a lot of guidance in building the institutions of governance such as administrative services, judiciary, and a strong executive body, and India, with its strong institutions can certainly help out. Other democracies around the world should also try to help out where help is desired or needed.

On the other hand, India and other democracies should give the younger sibling the opportunity to learn things on its own. In any new child learning happens when the child makes mistakes, falls and gets hurt every now and then. The tendency of the older sibling would naturally be to pick up the child before he falls. But doing so only robs the child of the learning they have to acquire to be a strong and productive member of the society. India, as the older sibling, should leave sufficient room for the new country to grow and develop on its own terms.

However, India should ensure that in the early years the fledgeling institutions of Bhutan do not fall prey to nefarious extraneous forces such as the Maoists and the militants supported by China and Burma. This is not only India's duty, but also its responsibility. Its India's "Kartavya"
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