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Ever the same old Vice Principal of Sherubtse College…

This was the ultimate sacrifice in a life defined by service and self-denial. An ardent PDP-turned-DNT supporter was merciful to me even in his victory: “He is only defeated, not dead”. Perhaps, it was job only half done!

But, indeed, here I am – still hopeful, still positive, still a man of faith even in despair. I do not forgive myself for the deep hurts and gnawing wounds that I may have inflicted on the many pious souls and loved ones who prayed for me and wished me well. Perhaps, I should have been wiser.

I went in with many beautiful dreams and sacred thoughts about my country, my society, my family, and about our shared future. I thought of our children and their children and their children’s children and beyond.

I followed a higher call than my own comfort and my convenience even as I knew full well that my family would have to bear the brunt of my sacrifice. I am guilty on many counts but most guilty on this count, however forgiving my loved ones may have been.

I couldn’t help it. And, this is how it has been with me. As a passionate and deeply committed educator these past three and half decades, I felt as if the burden of holding the future lay on my shoulders. I did not teach a whole generation of Bhutanese young men and women just to pass the examination and get a degree. I believe I taught them to be good human beings and dedicated leaders of our country, which, by the way, they are today.

It may sound naive but I could not do my job and not believe that the country’s future depended upon me and what I did as an educator. That is the reason why I get completely consumed by my work and by the institutions that I serve. It is my gift outright.

The private self and public image could not be alienated from each other. One could not be a teacher and not be an involved citizen at the same time. Telling the students to be good and upright and not being sincere oneself would divest the educator of the moral authority to stand in front of the class.

All these come at a heavy cost. But somebody has to do the difficult job.

“He made a mistake by joining ‘politics’ again. ‘Politics’ is not for him. It is dirty. It is ugly. He is too good for politics”, I heard many of my well-wishers bemoan. They were right, as I discover now. I knew, from experience, that ‘politics’ in its current character and colour actually fits the description above. But I still held on to an innocent Bhutan that seems to be rapidly crossing the threshold.

I do not like ‘politics’ as it is understood today. I cannot be a ‘politician’ as one is viewed today. I am Not a ‘politician’ that fits the label currently. But there it is. We have to deal with it. We cannot do without it, whether we like it or not. It is everywhere. Therefore, to condemn ‘politics’ and view ‘politicians’ with suspicion and disdain is to disengage oneself from a reality that one cannot wish away as a member of the society.

I believe in ‘politics’ in the old Platonic sense of the term.  For the greatest philosopher of all times, ‘politics’ was the highest service a citizen could offer to the state. Then, the most highly respected and learned citizens of the state entered ‘politics’ when they attained maturity and wisdom to shoulder the responsibility of managing the affairs of the state.

This was the reason why, following much coaxing and convincing, I joined the political process in 2008 because the stakes were very high. The King of Destiny had, in His ocean-deep wisdom, proclaimed to a democracy-shy people that come 2008 and Bhutan would mark a critical milestone in governance. For me as a devout believer in the noble virtues of monarchy and the majesty of kings, it was particularly unnerving to hear in a foreign land the news of the royal proclamation of the impending move.

Bhutan stood at the cusp of change like never before. And, the Bhutanese citizens, however reluctant, had to come forward and take care of the system that the King had gifted.

I came in because we had a sacred dream. Now that it was there, we hoped to nurture the new system to harmonise with Bhutan’s unique culture and ancient heritage; to cultivate a democratic polity that would be honourable and one in which people would have faith; and, above all, to ensure the continued security and well-being of our vital national institutions for all times to come. Bhutanese democracy could be a model for the world. We would strive to realise the vision of our beloved Druk Gyalpo, in faith and humility.

It was an extraordinary moment intimately linked with the future well-being of our country as a sovereign, self-respecting, forward-looking nation charting its own destiny and following her own unique path of development, guided by the eternal light of the golden throne.

I still believe that we have an opportunity to do more, and better. But it needs much soul-searching and positive action.

I wish I could erase 2018 from memory! It was painful beyond words to have to leave the institution that I loved, honoured and advanced with my entire self – through body, speech and mind, and to hurt many noble souls to make the ultimate sacrifice. Good intentions didn’t mitigate the agony. There were compelling reasons to attend to the call of the nation, all the same, – to seek to harmonise the ideal and the real, in my own way, in my time.

We, in the academia, often build and live in a world that is enriched and edified by our dream of the beautiful and the noble. We invest this world with goodwill and positive thoughts and people it with life and objects that meet and measure up to our vision.

As educators, we invite young men and women to this world as an incentive to be good and positive. But, the academia is also situated in the real world. It cannot be an ivory tower! We need to transfer this vision of the ideal world to the real world to make it better. This explains why we set up schools, colleges and universities in the first place.

That is the reason that, however much we wish to avoid the rough and tumble of ‘politics’ and hold on to our comfort zone, it is important for the world of the academia to test its viability against the odds of the real world. To the extent that the two do not meet and reinforce each other, the world of learning becomes that much more removed from the world of real happenings.

It is the same call on men and women in all stations of life and society to bring to bear their best to help build a better society however difficult and unpleasant the way to that end may often be. It is our country, and we have a stake in it. I have been through fire, many times, but still believe that the ideal must lead the real.

Wherever I have worked, I have rooted my engagement with the deep core of our national life. One of my programmes with the senior students in the last institution that I served was called “The Making of My Nation”. It was important for me to examine with my students how nations are made and how the real and the ideal world interact with each other. And, elections are among the most testing time for a nation and a people to look into their inner selves. They mark the moment of truth and call up the integrity of a people.

In my scheme of things, the means have to justify the end. There could be no two ways to it. Hence, election campaigns had to be clean and above board. Ignoble means can neither justify nor redeem noble ends. That is why what was at stake was not only campaigns and elections, but the character of our democracy, the integrity of our political culture, the process itself of elections.

I did my part as an educator, as a citizen, as a deeply involved participant in the life of my beloved country. It is a different matter that smart ‘politics’ often outsmarts the vision of a good world.

Someone commented after my first innings as a people’s representative: “Five years into politics and he is still the same old vice principal of Sherubtse College. Indeed, I am and will always be the same vice principal who has guided thousands of our young men and women who are running the country today, the same self-denying citizen who declined lucrative offers and invitations from abroad to stay home and guide our youth.

I am the same undivided, integral, loyal self despite brief sojourns into ‘politics’ in my sense of the term. ‘Politics’ has neither polluted nor depraved me, to be sure. I am an educator and have done the country proud. I believe that, despite many imperfections, I am still a reasonably good human being and a loyal citizen, still committed to serving my country till life holds. That is who I am, I beg to submit in self-defence.

A beautiful future, I am hopeful, is still possible under the wise and enlightened leadership of our beloved King. It is my fervent prayer that the guardian deities of our hallowed land bless our King, Country, and People for all times to come…

Contributed by Thakur S Powdyel

Thimphu

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