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By Ramesh Gautam
31-year-old Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck abruptly announced his plans to get married late this year. Though there had been some gossips floated about the king’s marriage, the formal declaration came in a different tone than the nation is accustomed. Wangchuk’s informing to the parliament about his wedding spread across the country within minutes.
Chosen as one of the best looking country heads by some of the online medias, Khesar was crowned in November 2008 in a dramatic move of his father, Jigme Singye Wangchuk. The young Oxford educated bachelor is also the youngest reigning monarch, while Bhutan is named today as the youngest democracy in the world after having gone through the so-called political transformation from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy some months before his coronation. Both of these ambiguous moves are apparently the wicked tactics coined by the fourth king to blindfold the international community from his impious dream; the dream of ethnic cleansing which came true in early 90s.
As like other so-called commoners throughout the world, the Bhutanese commoners respect the king and the crown with a big faith. Bhutanese people, irrespective of their religious inclinations, Hindus or Buddhists, they have a distinct culture of adoring the king as an incarnation of the God, in a way or the other. And as of today, many Bhutanese look upon to their young majesty as someone who will be able to revive the face of Shangri-La which is tarnished by the subsequent steps through suppressing the voices of people which consequently ended up with a mass exodus of its one-sixth population. Given all these realities, the marriage of the king is significantly an important deal in Bhutanese milieu.
Marriage is entirely a private matter but this necessarily does not remain the same for a king or a crown prince of a country. Many tragedies have been reported while there aroused misunderstanding in finalizing the matter for the royals. May it be 15th century Tudors in Britain or a fresh 21st century royal killings in Nepal, marriage issues had always a good part to play. Though no any significant marriage issue has been noted in Bhutanese case, a journalist in Bhutan, last year, wrote openly that the king’s marriage should be a matter of public discussion and not merely a private affair. It is a good sign that his subjects rejoiced the message of the would-be marriage of their king in Bhutan.
Probably the king was, in a way, scared and was emotional to take the message to the public. His fear should be that the queen-to-be Jetsun Pema was very young. John Elliott, a British journalist based in New Delhi reveals that the king told him that he had felt quite nervous announcing his planned marriage. “It was easier to talk about matters of state than such a personal event,” John quotes the king as saying.
Pema’s being a commoner should not be a matter of debate in Bhutan. In a grand ceremony last month, Prince William got married with a commoner Catherine Middleton. Though much of the attention focused on Kate Middleton’s status as a commoner marrying into royalty, the marriage was highly cherished around. In June last year, Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden got married to her own personal trainer. Responding to a question made by Japanese Newspaper in 2005, Victoria said, “I think the general idea with the Swedes is that the modern way is to marry someone you love, not necessarily based on where she or he comes from.” In August 2001, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway married commoner and single mother Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby. Many Norwegians felt that this was very inappropriate as Høiby, in addition to being a single mother, was claimed to have involvement in Rave scenes in Oslo which included a significant drug sub-culture. Furthermore, the father of the boy she had before marriage was allegedly found culprit of drug-related offences. In a heartfelt press conference before the wedding, the Crown Princess explained about her past, saying among other things that “her youthful rebelliousness might have been stronger than most young people.” In June 1993, the then Prince Abdullah bin Al-Hussein (present day king) of Jordan married Rania al Yassin who was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents. Rania al Yassin (Queen Rania of Jordan) would later rank 76th in a list of the 100 most powerfully influential women in the world. [Bhutan can best be compared to Jordan with executive power in monarchy]. In all these instances, royal traditions have been sidelined with the personal choices and the comparatively strong power of love. And obviously, Bhutanese king’s choice from his heart should not be interpreted otherwise. Moreover, nothing much has been known about this young angel of 21 whose charm, modesty and compassion and “her being kind and warm in heart and character” have already rooted to the palace of the king’s heart.
The king might have gone suspicious about the people that they might be reluctant about the young age of the would-be queen. This is clear from his briefing to the parliament, “Now, many will have their own idea of what a Queen should be like – that she should be uniquely beautiful, intelligent and graceful. I think with experience and time, one can grow into a dynamic person in any walk of life with the right effort.” Well, Princess Diana was just 20 when she got married to Prince Charles (33) and Queen Rania was 22 when she got married to Prince Abdullah bin Al-Hussein (31). Both of these ladies were/are very successful as royals though Lady Diana came out of the narrow walls of the palace officially ending up the knot with Prince Charles and stating that she would rather become the queen of the people’s heart, while Queen Rania continues to remain as an important international and social figure. But it should be remembered that Pema is entering the palace as a queen and not just a crown princess. As assumed by the king, every Bhutanese should wish that the time will inculcate wisdom and intellect in her and that this young lady will be appreciated both inside and outside the palace.
But what is very important for Pema to enter the palace and hearts of the people as a queen, a queen in an active monarchy?
Obviously, her wisdom, intellect and personality. Bhutanese monarchy is not a ceremonial monarchy worshipped and celebrated by the public. This monarchy has no any strong public adherence either. As of today, there are just a few active monarchs who are endowed with executive powers. The future of monarchy, that escaped a narrow slide via a culture of disrespect, violence and with use of an ethnic tool, can be at risk any time.
Bhutan is a tiny Himalayan kingdom with a population of 600,000, though some critics present the figures differently. One-sixth of its population lives in an exile as UN recognised-refugees in the camps in Nepal or as resettled refugees in different foreign countries. In proportion to its population, Bhutan tops the list of refugee generators in the world. It has also demolished the age-old culture of religious and cultural tolerance and the mutual understanding and cooperation grown among the people of every walk of life. Despite this bitter truth, the worshippers of the palace are busy selling crude and ambiguous hypothesis of Gross National Happiness (GNH) in the international markets.
As a queen of active monarchy, Queen Rania of Jordan is equally busy in domestic issues like: educating the girls, national health and community and youth empowerment. Rania has become an international figure who is successful in making her presence from global education to cross-cultural dialogues and from international forums to microfinance. Her use of social networking sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter for creating awareness, bridging the east and the west and facilitating discussions on cross-cultural faith have been proudly applauded.
The active involvement of Norwegian Crown Princess Mette Marit in social life is worth-mentioning here. Though she sustained the character-related controversy, she has now gained public recognition to a considerable extent due to her activities for society. She is involved in a number of social and international organizations including UNAIDS and Norwegian Red Cross. A humanitarian fund has been established in the name of the couple and interestingly, she completed many university degrees after she is being married. Monarchy in Norway is ceremonial and it is a symbol of national unity.
And in Bhutanese context, the female members in the royal family have a little role to play. But in the changing circumstances in the modern society with active monarchy, the role of the queen should merely be limited to inaugurations and openings. Though my personal opinion and observations regarding the status of monarchy, that too in Bhutan, are rather conglomerated and deserves another dimensional narrative. As mentioned above, the queen can be an active member for socio-economic developments. A wise queen should help the king open his eyes from the past blunders done by the royal family. Pema Jetsun and her activities can be instrumental in reviving the image of the Shangri-La. Evidently the most challenging task for her will be to bear the gravity of the controversial concept of GNH but her activities should purely be focused for the welfare of the people. It is her choice whether to become the queen in the hearts of the people or to be caged in the four walls of the palace.
Best of Luck to the future queen!
[This is a personal opinion of the writer and it is not the official view of Bhutaneseliterature.com - Editors]