By T.P. Mishra
The Prime Minister of Bhutan
Dear Mr. Thinley,
Please acknowledge my tardy wishes, both congratulations and appreciations, for serving the country in the aptitude of the first elected prime minister of a “democratic” Bhutan. In many areas in the country, some positive changes, which are noticeable, have taken place. This is an appreciating initiative. Honestly, you should, however, admit that the phenomenon of modern democracy is yet to be ushered in true guts.
Discrimination on suppressed ethnic groups continues in “democratic” Bhutan. The towering power and monarchy’s direct influence in active politics keeps going. The formation of the Bhutanese Media Foundation under the king’s initiation is an instance. The public’s fundamental rights, in many aspects, have not yet been guaranteed in the practical sense. The question of safeguarding national sovereignty is doubtful — foreign intervention in our politics is the same despite your claim that the country has stepped into the democratisation process.
Initially, your recent visit to Nepal had given hope to the Bhutanese refugees because many had thought that you would present yourself intrepid to speak of their immediate return home. You did, but more in a tactical way; it could be another ploy to keep the protracted issue as it is.
Not being an exception, like in the past, you did not overlook to say that your government was committed to resolving the crisis. Just hours after paying homage to the late G.P. Koirala on the 13th day of his death, journalists in Nepal busied themselves in running after your stories. Their grave concern and continuous follow-ups to your visit developed due to your refugees camped in their country for almost two decades.
Dear sir, I was a little bit perplexed to read news stories in the mainstream media in Nepal where you were quoted as saying that the governments of both Bhutan and Nepal have given top priority to resolving the refugee crisis. You did not mention back-up points regarding how your government has been giving it top priority, though. Had it been true, the problem could have been solved many years back. You are also well aware of the fact that despite 15 rounds of Nepal-Bhutan bilateral talks, not a single refugee has been able to go back home.
I wonder for how long your “democratic” government will continue to swindle the international community by maintaining that you are solemn towards kick-starting the repatriation process at the soonest possible.
During the meeting with your Nepali counterpart, Madhav Kumar Nepal, you apparently thanked the core groups for resettling “people in the camps”, in your own words. As has been a trend in Bhutan, you were even hesitant to say “Bhutanese refugees” in the camps, thus, you addressed them as “people in the camps”. Often, politicians or media houses in Bhutan address us as “refugees in Nepal” or “people in the camps”, both of which are not the best terms. I would rather not feel odd to let you know that refugees from various countries including Tibet, Burma, Somalia and Pakistan, among others, too live in Nepal.
There was no coherent basis to thank the core groups if these refugees were not from Bhutan. At least, you deserve appreciation from the exiled Bhutanese for extending your government’s words of gratitude to the resettlement countries. At last you proved that your own regime’s proclamation, quite often, at international arenas labelling those “people in the camps” as “terrorists” is misleading. These “people in the camps” are resettled in various Western countries as refugees from Bhutan, not as terrorists.
Dear sir, I am neither a historian nor a politician. I was a five-year-old boy when my father, besides thousands of others, was brutally tortured — both mentally and physically — for 31 days inside the “black” jail in Bhutan before he was forced to sign the so-called voluntary form at gunpoint in the early 1990s, the time when the mass exodus took place. What I learnt of Bhutan, though I am its genuine citizen, is only through books and from conversations with exiled Bhutanese, leaders or concerned experts.
Apparently, I might be too immature to remind you about the history, which speaks of the fact that these “people in the camps” had a bigger volume of contribution than anyone in Bhutan to drive the country to this stage. Those politicians undermining the history of these great contributors, for sure, shall be demoralised by the standard set norms and values of “true” democracy.
I wonder with whom your government holds bilateral talks. India, that has been a think tank for Bhutanese politics behind the curtain, claims the issue is a bilateral one between Nepal and Bhutan, citing the fact that a majority of your refugees dwell in Nepal. If you are updated, a clear majority among 108,000 persons will soon reach the U.S. through the third country resettlement programme. Does this now mean, according to India’s definition, that the bilateral talks should be between your government and the US?
I believe you can’t deceive the US, the world’s biggest democracy, as you did to Nepal, which was an all-time-rubberstamp during 15 rounds of bilateral talks. There isn’t any alternative for your government except to expedite the dignified repatriation process through which those willing to go back home will remain blissful.
Thank you in advance for creating this opportunity to write you an open letter. However, I do not wish to keep writing the same way.
(This write-up appeared in today’s ‘Kathmandu Post’, a leading Nepali National Daily.The author is the founder/president of the Bhutan Chapter of the Third World Media Network and author of ‘Becoming a Journalist in Exile’)
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