Sunday, April 28, 2013

In remembrance of Dasho Zillnon Dorji Wangchuck

It was reported that the car he drove went off the highway near Ganglakha in the early morning of 18th April, 2013. This stretch of Phuentsholing Thimphu highway between Sorchen and Jumdra area is prone to foggy weather. There could be many reasons for the fatal accident like fast driving which most young people do without such fatal consequences. It could, however, very well be low visibility in the early hour fog.

Dasho is the son of Her Royal Highness Princess Dechen Wangmo Wangchuck and Dasho Thinley Dorji. But a straight forward short cut comprehension of who he really is would be to simply state that Dasho Zillnon Dorji Wangchuck is the 1st grandchild of their Majesties King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (the 3rd King of Bhutan) and Her Majesty Queen Kesang Choeden Wangchuck. By Bhutan’s strict official definition he is not a royalty but royal blood definitely gave birth to him. This paradox of birth - being neither royal nor commoner can be as confounding and difficult to adjust as would be an unprepared person of a tropical region teleported suddenly to a hostile tundra region. Dasho being the 1st grandchild, he was old enough to remember the grand old days but not mature enough to cope with the social changes in status that came about in the 1990’s. For anyone, I feel, it is a tragedy to have to travel through a no-man land. And it is much more difficult if one had never been prepared for such a trek.

 I met Dasho in person few years back, lean, handsome and charmingly soft spoken. Dasho’s resemblance to the 4th King amazed me. By then he had his share of life’s joy and sorrow, love, wives and children. I believe he had on occasion darker moods but generally a gregarious personality of immense goodwill and passionate character so I am told.

I wondered what kind of funeral it would be that day on Thursday the 25th of April, 2013 at Thimphu crematorium. It was a sobering day not much sun and no rain but it was a royal funeral. Thankfully and rightfully, blood triumphed over official dictates. His Holiness Thrulku Jigme Choedra, the 70th Jhe Khenpo led the Mitruk prayers with the venerable Lopons and monks of Central Monastic Body. Life after death could be anyone’s guess but it is generally believed that when Mitruk prayer is offered by such a holy lam as His Holiness Jhe Khenpo, the deceased does make a brief appearance. If so Dasho Zillnon would have appreciated the royal honour offered in death. Along with his immediate family members, almost all members of four generations of the royal families were present led by His Majesty the 4th King. They were all soberly dressed as befitting bereaved families.

Unlike the royal bereaved members, I was dressed differently like few other attendees. It was an important day for me. The Kings have been gracious to me and as a senior Bhutanese citizen and subject of the Kings, I wanted to be properly attired to be presentable when making the final adieu to the royal grandson, royal nephew and royal cousin of the Kings of Bhutan. I took my bath, wore my ancient bura gho, and purified a note of 100, 10 and 5 ngultrums with incense smoke and holy water from the bumpa. If an occasion presented, I intended to pay my respects before the make shift alter customarily placed in front of every funeral pyre. If not I decided to make the offering to the Thimphu river flowing nearby. After all, the ash from the pyre ultimately would have to be immersed in a River.

But an occasion did present itself. I approached the alter decked with offerings, and Dasho’s photo so alive and noble looking placed on the top-most choetri. I bowed, lowered my kabney till the frills touched the sacred ground, offered the Nu: 100 note in lieu of a khaddar and wished Dasho a less complicated and more comforting next life. Then I approached the already lit funeral pyre and offered the NU: 15 as part of Dasho’s offering (chhan-jay) to the next world Lam who will guide his path.

Much later, I had the honour and privilege of being graciously hugged by His Majesty the 4th King. I wanted to say how sorry I was but the air was already heavy with sorrow and loss. Instead I held the royal person in embrace a second longer than correct protocol. But protocol was far away from the scene of a royal life cruelly felled mid-way and now within a burning pyre.

No outsider can fathom the pain of bereavement. But still I hope as time goes by, it becomes bearable for those near and dear ones left behind so suddenly. I hope Dasho’s children successfully go through school and college so that they would be prepared to fend for themselves along with other citizens of their age. When one is neither royal nor a commoner, the most advisable approach would be to get a good education, mingle with the crowd and learn the ways of both societies. The nobleness will remain within the blood regardless of official definition and practical experiences, education and exposures would provide the required impetus to cope with both the world of the royal and the citizen society of Bhutan.

I humbly offer my prayers to the bereaved royal members especially to Her Highness the royal mother and Her Majesty the Queen Grandmother of Dasho Zillnon. Her Majesty, Grand Queen Mother Kesang Choeden Wangchuck has sacrificed so much and borne so much pain for the Nation, the royal families and now this personal tragedy. I hope the royal mother and the royal grandmother will find solace and comprehension of life in the Buddhist scriptures and prayers.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hear, Hear ye all whoever care to hear!

Occasionally all so unexpectedly, one is so deeply exposed to another person’s thought and emotion. Many years back, I saw a televised event wherein the present Emperor of Japan was remembering his late father Emperor. The Emperor poetically mourned the absence of his father though the four seasons of Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn appeared as usual. This experience, I feel sure, added an extra dimension to my love and reverence for my parents.

Today I was quite overcome by the Bishop of London, His Eminence Richard Chartres. The Bishop was remembering ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of Britain, during her funeral service.

Margaret Thatcher is considered to be a most controversial and polarizing politician who dominated British and to some extent international politics for over a decade. She overcame prejudices against, “women especially women with children”. However, when she got the top job, she was mother of arrogance to many of her colleagues who finally ganged up and sent her packing to retirement. And for the next 2 decades or so, she led a near reclusive life especially after suffering a stroke in early 1990’s and then loss of her beloved husband Denis Thatcher. Fate is a mixture of sweet and sour soap.

In death ( April 8th ) the international media again racked up old wounds but today at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Bishop of London called upon the gathering of dignitaries, politicians, family members, friends and political adversaries to let it be. “It is not a memorial service, it is a simple funeral service as requested by her”, he said. “The time is for compassion and not political difference,” he implored.  

The cathedral housed more than 2000 mourners headed by Her Majesty Queen of England and Duke of Edinburgh. There were family members, Prime Ministers of Britain, past and present, Head of governments and representatives of over 170 Countries. Henry Kissinger was also there. The Archbishop of Canterbury was there to offer prayers. It was impressive and it was a state funeral in all sense. The Britons really know how to come together and showcase memorable historical events.

To this august gathering of mourners, the Bishop of London admitted that Thatcher was a controversial and polarizing figure but she did successfully serve Britain and the British when it mattered. This same sentiment was also expressed by Prime Minister Cameron a few days earlier, “She was there when our country needed most”.

The Bishop offered his condolences to the family members ( children and grandchildren ) and dedicated friends of the late Prime Minister especially to those “who stood by her side in later years”.

His Eminence Richard Chartres looks much younger than Mrs. Thatcher but it seems they were good personal friends and confidants. He talked of Margaret Thatcher’s view of individual and religion. He recounted that Margaret Thatcher said that Christianity did not provide political and economic solutions and that she had also said “Happiness and Salvation cannot be achieved in isolation but only as part of a society”.

I feel fortunate and enriched by experiencing this live telecast from the St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. And I reverently salute the Bishop of London, a religious personality with immense political knowledge and great eloquence that brought about a healing touch to the living and a memorial tribute to Baroness Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps in his memorial address, he succeeded in bringing about the personal side of the former Prime Minister without alienating her political adversaries and providing a much needed conciliatory gesture to enable a great nation to remember an extraordinary woman. Sometimes it is a great relief to find a person of such nature who uses extraordinary talent and humanness to bring dignity to a society often torn apart by political differences.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Gyalpozhing Land Case.

The trial court in Mongar passed its verdict. It seems neither side was satisfied. Critics thought it was too lenient and the penalized people thought it was unfair. The cases are under appeal in High Court. And now it’s the turn of the four High Court Drangpons to centre stage the nation.
The cases are between two sets of authorities: The Committee for Land allotment and the Anti Corruption Commission. The former is accused of high jacking the “Kasho” and the latter whose commissioners are now in their 7th or 8th year of supreme reign against the constitutional 5 year tenure is accused of high jacking legitimacy. And out in the open air, we the public spectators are ever ready to swing with the wind and also enjoy pot-shots.

The appeal courts - High Court and Supreme Court, may now need to examine just more than what accusers and the accused have stated in the trial court.

The basic question is why was the committee formed? If it was simply to allot plots as per the command then there was no need to set up a committee. The Dzongda, as representative of the King, was there to implement straight forward directives.

Were the committee members paid sitting fee like Board Directors of a corporation? If so, it was an additional responsibility with additional pay, therefore, each member is accountable. If no fee were paid, then the work of the committee was an additional burden and is it reasonable or fair to demand that a beast of burden carry more than its share of baggage?

I have heard a saying something like ‘Justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done’ It validates the essentialities of general perception. A widely held perception is a law unto itself. It influences people’s thoughts and actions and paves way for general acceptance.

Presently the national land commission holds sway over all private land holding in urban and rural areas. However a few years back, it was not so. The Town Committees allotted land and the Town administrations registered or deregistered plots in urban areas. There existed unquestionable general perception that Town Committees had the necessary authority over urban plot allotment and registration.

If the plots are to be allotted only to the original land owners then the very land should have been left in the possession of original owners. The Government could have developed the plots and charged the costs to the land owners or in lieu take possession of the part of the land holding as development cost. And if the plots were to be allotted only to business license holders, how does that benefit the original land holders? And anyways who really are the license holders? These people are not necessarily original inhabitants from the locality. Most are fast track people with financial means and acquired knowledge to complete the required formalities to possess business license, in time to get plots. Therefore, should the so called influential people or cousins be less eligible than shrewd businessman or an alerted acquaintance who acquired timely business license.

The indisputable facts are:
  1. The original land holders lost out in all the declared modern urban areas from Gyalpozhing to Khuruthang to Bajothang and countless other urban areas. The law and administrators just chose to pay minimum compensation and take away the land. After that whether a minister got a plot or a mistress got a plot or a business man got a plot, it really does not impact the life of the original land owner.
  2.  Those who have the financial means and necessary connections bought plots through allotments and maybe few could have got plots without payment through Kidu process.
  3. The accepted norm in the past for acquiring plots in declared urban areas was to apply to the Town committee. Everyone high, middle or low followed the procedure because general perception was that the Town Committee was the authority for plot allotments.
Whatever “Kasho” or even letter of Zonal Administrator that are being cited in the ongoing case were not available in public domain. Therefore only three authorities were and are equipped to interpret these documents - the two issuing authorities and one implementing authority.

Like other lay men, I am impressed with legal jargons used by lawyers fighting the case but Drangpons from same schools as that of prosecuting and defending lawyers might not so easily be impressed or stupefied.

The crux of the debates between opposing lawyers are the interpretation of Kasho and zonal administrator’s letter. Did these documents empower the committee? Did the committee error?

Now will the High Court provide the interpretation of the nuances of the Kasho and that of the zonal order? Would the judicial interpretation be in line with the thought and intent of the originators of the Kasho and zonal letter? Is it necessary or advisable for sake of delivering Justice to seek views of the originators before any Agency or Court goes ahead in its interpretation of the implied meanings / nuances of the documents especially when the accused parties are disputing the opinions of the prosecuting Agency?

Precedence: In Judiciary, past verdicts on similar cases does matter. Prior to this Land committee case, there was a construction committee case. Not just any construction committee, it was the committee for Supreme Court construction.

A drangpon of the then highest Court of the Land (High Court) was a member of the committee. According to media report, Supreme Court’s verdict was that the committee erred and in fact manipulated to award the contract to a particular construction firm. The Supreme Court directed High Court to order concerned Ministry (Work and Human Settlement) to take disciplinary action against committee members. The matter ended with that Ministry issuing a reprimand note to those committee members still under civil service. Upon legal complaint by another aggrieved party, the tender was cancelled and recalled and the contract given to other parties. Likewise in Gyalpozhing case, it is possible to revert back the allotted plots to government ownership if there were compromise of norms. Thus in both cases lasting damage is prevented / preventable.

In terms of monetary value, the Supreme Court construction could well exceed the total proceeds that Government received from the allotment of Gyalpozhing plots. A Government Committee is a committee whether of land or construction. If the Land committees erred, can the penalty be different from that of the construction committee that had erred and compromised norms.

In a court of Law, the standard of process and basis for Justice should hold true and same for both a doorman or a cabinet minister or a committee. Equal Justice under Law cannot remain a decorative plaque heeded only occasionally nor is it fair on one’s part to demand leniency for some and harsh penalty for some because before the law, it is assumed that all are equal.

Sangey of Haa Wangcha