Author Dr. Dhakal
By DNS Dhakal, PhD
The Nepalese people welcomed the generous contribution of Bhutan government on the next day the killer earthquake shook Nepal at 11:54 AM on April 25. A contribution of one million US dollars to Prime Minister’s Relief Fund from small neighboring Bhutan was a big news in Kathmandu. The Prime Minister of Bhutan himself was in Kathmandu with money, relief materials and a medical team to assist Nepal at the times of need.
This symbolic gesture is interpreted positively. Some believe that Bhutan genuinely feels the pains and suffering of the earthquake victims. It is a natural outpouring of genuine feeling towards a neighbor with whom it shares deep rooted cultural and religious ties from ancient times.
Earthquake victim wearing souvenir with an image of Bhutan’s monarch couple. Photo Courtesy: Kuensel.
Some do question this interpretation from the attitude Bhutan has shown towards resolving the Bhutanese refugee imbroglio in Nepal and non-committal to Nepal’s proposal for establishment of a residential mission in Thimphu.
Irrespective of what the regime in Thimphu believes the relationship Bhutan and Nepal are deep rooted and are flourishing at grass roots level.
Annually, thousands of Bhutanese people visit Boudha, Swambhu, Pasupatinath, Halisi Mahadev, Lumbini and Muktinath for pilgrimage. And thousands more travel by air and land for vacation or business.
The flow is one-way at least at present time since Bhutan does not provide the privileged status to Neplease nationals which nationals of other regional countries enjoy. All Bhutanese are at home in Nepal whether they are Lhotsams, Sarchops or Ngalongs. Most of them use land routes and do not comply with visa requirements.
The bedrock of this informal relationship dates back to the reign of Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel, founder father of Bhutan, and Ram Shah of Gorkha, the founding father of proto Nepal. The exchange of religious missions between Bhutan and Nepal and resettlements of Nepali population in Bhutan start from their reign.
Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal. Photo Courtesy: Krishna Dhital
This is what I consider the bedrock of relationship between two countries. This sentiment was also expressed by Lopen Pemala in 1982 when he said, “Bhutan needs to reconnect with Nepal at different levels although the two royal families had been talking to each other through religious contacts. Nepal is one country where we are at home in people-to-people communication”
The two and half decade’s long refugee imbroglio has pushed Bhutan-Nepal relationship at the lowest level. The royal connection between the two countries also has snapped with the establishment of republic in Nepal. There is a need to establish multi-tier level connectivity between the two countries to keep intact the age-old relationship and share information of common interest in increasingly complex emerging geo-political environment.
Ram Shah. Picture courtesy: Krishna Dhital
In that context establishment of Bhutan-Nepal Foundation supported by common people becomes the need of the hour. Here, non-resident Bhutanese (NRB) could play an instrumental role. As a group settled in developed countries they would have increasingly access to ideas and resources to make a meaningful contribution. Non-Resident Bhutanese residing in overseas countries, civil societies and intellectuals residing in Bhutan and Nepal— all should pool together ideas and resources to make Bhutan-Nepal Foundation strong and genuinely grass roots supported bilateral relationship between the two countries in the years to come.
Editor’s note: DNS Dhakal, PhD is a senior fellow at Duke University and has been working in its executive education programs on Project Appraisal and Risk Management and Fiscal Decentralization and Local Government since 2001. Dr. Dhakal also worked as visiting professor at Harvard University. In addition, he works as a BPA consultant in the capacity of senior cost benefit analysis expert and expert trainer for the Economic Policy Office of USAID in Washington, D.C. He served as Mineral Economist and Mining Engineer at Department of Geology and Mines, Ministry of Trade and Industry of Royal Government of Bhutan. He is an acting president of Bhutan National Democracy Party.