Bhutan will celebrate its 108th National Day on December 17, 2015 with pride and admiration, as it is a commemoration of the rich history and tradition of the Bhutanese. The day also marked the unity of Bhutanese people and National Day proffered just the space for celebration for both the country and its people with their Kings. Current king is H.M. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, crowned on November 1, 2008 marking the 100 years of monarchy and the country and Prime Minister is H.E. Tshering Tobgay.
History of the celebrations
Historians like Dr Karma Phuntsho said December 17 was a major milestone in Bhutanese history, as it marked a new era, an era where the country’s many chieftains and feudal lords accepted Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck as the most powerful of leaders in the country and approached him to be the first King.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, colonialism was very common – with European powers invading and capturing territory, especially in Asia. The biggest and most aggressive among them was the British – who after occupying the whole Indian Subcontinent in the late 19th century or 1860’s knocked on the doors of a divided Bhutan with several power centres and regional lords. Documents from the old public archives in the late 19th century show a proposed plan of invasion of Bhutan from several routes into western and central Bhutan. The British assumed that Bhutan, which was divided, would be cakewalk and they had a very poor opinion on Bhutanese military capability at the time.
All of that changed when the father of the First King, the Black Regent Jigme Namgyal- not only gave the British a bloody nose with some humiliating defeats at Deothang during the Duar Wars, but also united the country. Though the British won the Duar War after a massive effort lasting five months, Bhutan – in effect, had achieved some important aims.
British accounts, gave some glowing accounts of Bhutanese military capability after the Duar Wars. The British also realized that Bhutan was a united state under Jigme Namgyal – and not some fractious group of principalities. The British, after having achieved its limited Duar aims of recovering territory captured by Bhutan from local Indian princely states, made no future attempt at any military actions against Bhutan.
The First King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck further consolidated on his father’s actions and cemented the unity of Bhutan. The First King, in a well thought out strategic move, turned the British from a regional rival and threat into an ally by positioning Bhutan as a strong, sovereign, and strategic buffer state in the great game between the British Empire and Russia over Central Asia. This move, secured Bhutan’s territory both from the South and the North.
With Bhutan’s sovereign status stronger than ever before – the First King followed by His Majesty the Second King Jigme Wangchuck could focus on consolidating the unity and stability of the country, setting up a strong government, starting developmental activities, and also sowing the seeds of a modern Bhutan.
His Majesty the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck is remembered as the Father of Modern Bhutan and started the process of planned development. After the departure of the British from India, the Third King signed a Friendship Treaty with India in 1949 that mentioned that both countries would not interfere in each other’s internal matters. The Third King’s visit to India in 1954 and Nehru’s reciprocal visit to Bhutan in 1958 laid the basis for planned development in Bhutan with assistance from India.
The 1959 invasion of Tibet by Chinese forces threw Bhutan a security challenge from the North. It was not clear where and when Chinese forces would stop, and some aggressive statements on Bhutan by a senior Chinese leader made the situation even more uncertain. Bhutan, at the time, led by the Third King reasserted Bhutan’s sovereign status. Given the close relationship established by the Third King with India, the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asserted in the Indian Parliament that if Bhutan was attacked – then India would take up its defense as a friend and ally of Bhutan.
To further strengthen Bhutan’s sovereign status it joined the United Nations in 1971.
Bhutan, under the magnificent reign of His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, saw unprecedented social, economic, and political growth and progress. All indicators like health, mortality, education, sanitation, income, infrastructure, economic development, etc., saw spectacular jumps and improvements. His Majesty the Fourth King also launched the establishment of democracy in Bhutan, which culminated in Bhutan’s first democratic Parliamentary election in March 2008.
Bhutan’s sovereign and independent status grew even stronger under the Fourth King. Just a year after his reign, Bhutan joined the Non-Aligned Movement in 1973. Bhutan also established diplomatic relations with some key countries who continue to be Bhutan’s major donors and Bhutan established embassies and missions in key countries across the world. During this time, several international offices and organizations opened in Bhutan, which helped garner the much needed aid to Bhutan.
Bhutan became a founding member of SAARC in 1985. His Majesty also effectively dealt with an internal security challenge in the 1990’s that had been simmering since the Second King’s time in southern Bhutan. However, the biggest security challenge in Bhutan, in its recent modern history, came from the well-armed militants from India camped in thick Bhutanese forests, and in the process were threatening our sovereignty. After repeated attempts at a peaceful resolution, His Majesty the Fourth King led the nation’s security forces from the front to successfully uproot the foreign militants in 2003.