Socio-political history of Bhutan
HIMALAYAN KINGDOM BHUTAN Tradition, Transition and Transformation: A.C. Sinha; Indus Publishing Company, FS-5, Tagore Garden, New Delhi-110027. Rs. 450.
THE BOOK under review is literally a Himalayan work in terms of the socio-political history of the Kingdom of Bhutan. This scholarly work is the result of the tenacity and perseverance of Dr. A. C. Sinha. It is also a combination of exploratory and analytical methodology, including field study par excellence. It is an admirable work on the Bhutanese theocratic community turning into a nation-state.
This veritable "gazetteer'' on Bhutan is divided into three parts. Part one on "Tradition'' consists of environment and ethnicity, religion and history and the given political system under theocracy, monarchy and administration. Part two on "Transition'' from the traditional structure deals with the emergence of the Wangchuk principality, managing the frontiers, advent of the "Lhotshampas" and introduction of modern education as an instrument of effective transition in society. Part three on "Transformation" reports on the contemporary Bhutanese scenario in terms of political culture and national dilemma, ethnic stalemate and nation building.
The book is further divided into 10 chapters, each of them dealing with separate micro themes in a detailed and critical manner.
The author brings the quintessence of the book in the opening paragraph of his introduction. He writes, "I read that Bhutan, the unspoiled, exotic and Shangri-la in the hidden Himalaya, is the only Buddhist Kingdom in the world. Known to its people as the Dragon Kingdom (Brug or Drugyul), she has stood on guard as a trustee of an otherworldly tradition of Lamaist Buddhism. She possesses unparalleled and breath-taking scenic beauty and claims to be the only South Asian country without a population problem. The King, his court, theocracy and the Dukpas are projected as unique, ancient and a rare human heritage. Similarly, the Bhutanese sites of interest the dzons (forts), monks and snow-capped mountains all are located in the northern portion of the kingdom. Bhutan is reluctant to open up to the world outside and only select visitors are welcome to the land. With its Lamaist religion, mythical traditions and an exotic pattern of culture, it impresses on its visitors as a reluctantly modernising, future-oriented and environment-friendly country."
The range of the book is indeed encyclopaedic and nothing has been left out of its ambit. It discusses the various ethnic groups as follows: "Ethnologically the Bhutanese society may be identified at various levels the pre-Brugpa Mons, predominantly found in the eastern Bhutan, Ngalong of western Bhutan and Koch, Mech and descendants of the other communities from Duars in the high hills. Another and perhaps the most easily identified ethnic group are the Lhotshampas."
The author's description of the Dukpa theocracy is very objective and is based on extensive empirical data: "The Tibetan Buddhism of Mahayana School assimilated the ritual practices, Shamanistic devices, theology, myths, legends and the lore of the pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion within its fold. So much so that the Tibetan Buddhism took an entirely different overt form necessitating a distinct nomenclature Lamaism for it. In course of time various monks, priests, reformers and missionaries made a number of innovations as per their training, experiences and demands of the time. They also established a chain of monasteries all over the Lamaist world and among them an intricate process of reincarnations was evolved. The monasteries turned out to be not only the centres of ritual and religious offerings, knowledge and learning, but they also came to be the core of the material wealth and politics of Bhutan.
The book traces the ups and downs in Bhutan's foreign relations with the British first and India later, and the emerging contours of its relations with India.
The author examines the form of government and the nature of administration in Bhutan. The King (Druk-gyalpo) is still the major important institution. The National Assembly (Tshongdu) is the legislature, and the first National Assembly was inaugurated in 1953 at Punakha. From July 1998 a Council of Ministers has been made responsible for the State administration. The King's powers are getting reduced and it is heading towards a titular head of the State.
It is an excellent piece of research in political sociology and any one interested in knowing anything on Bhutan should read this book. The author richly deserves our congratulations.
C. A. PERUMAL
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