Bhutan’s King takes his bride to celebrate ties with India

It is a measure of the close ties between the world’s smallest kingdom and largest democracy that Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk has come to India on a state visit with Queen Jitsen Pema less than two weeks after they were married in a spectacular ceremony in Thimpu, the tiny Himalayan country’s capital.

King Jigme – known in Bhutan as K5, the fifth king – has been holding official talks in Delhi for the past two days with prime minister Manmohan Singh and other top ministers and officials. The president hosted an official banquet last night. The 31-year old king and his 21-year old bride are in India for nine days, combining official duties with a honeymoon railway journey through the Rajasthan cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur.

Sandwiched between the potentially hostile nuclear powers of India and China, Bhutan is a sensitive buffer state that has been fully aligned with India for over 50 years. It is therefore specially significant that King Jigme should be in Delhi so soon after his marriage and before a state visit next month to Japan. It shows that the links, which India guards jealously, will continue into the future. Rahul Gandhi, dynastic heir to the leadership of India’s Congress Party and a potential future prime minister, was one of the few official foreign guests at the wedding, reflecting friendship between the two families.

Bhutan has no formal relations with China, much to Beijing’s angst, though the two countries do meet for talks on their un-demarcated mountainous border where China is claiming two stretches of land for its region of Tibet. It is also reported to be establishing links in Bhutanese villages. China has a much more militarily sensitive and hotly disputed border with India, where its claims include sovereignty over the state of Arunachal Pradesh to the east of Bhutan.

Some Bhutanese officials speculate that links with China will be relaxed in the future, but this week’s visit by the royal couple shows where the king’s primary focus lies. These issues have been discussed by the King in meetings today with the head of RAW, India’s intelligence service, and the army chief.

In Bhutan, the King Jigme has the tough task ruling over a new democracy that was initiated in 2006 by his father King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who then abdicated in his favour. Earlier, his father started the policy of aiming for Gross National Happiness, which involves maintaining traditional culture, good governance, and a sustainable environment, as well as economic prosperity (he explained the policy to me in an interview in 1987).

K5 has broken with tradition in one significant way by declaring that he will have only one wife, abandoning the Bhutanese form of polygamy where men and women, particularly in rural areas, sometimes take several sisters or brothers as partners. His father married four sisters and they all have the status of queen mother, but it is clear that he intends that Jitsen Pema should be the only queen.

When they have finished their state visit and holiday in India, the royal couple will return to Bhutan and continue a series of journeys around the country that they started after their engagement was announced in May. On Sunday evening, they told me that they had already visited about half of the country, including areas hit by a recent earthquake. “We have been struck by the warmth for my family and the great response we have received,” said the king.

That bodes well for them as they tackle the difficult task of leading this traditional country into the western ways of a democracy and consumer society, while also balancing Bhutan’s strong Indian ties with China’s looming presence just across the mountains.

Source from:
By John Elliott from Riding the Elephant blog
The Foreign Desk


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