History of Bhutan

Bhutan was inhabited possibly as early as 2000 BC. Buddhism was probably introduced in the 2nd Century, although traditionally its introduction is credited with the visit of Guru Rinpoche in AD 747 who arrived in Bhutan. Guru Rinpoche is one of the most important figures in Bhutan’s history, regarded as the second Buddha. There are different versions claiming the origin of the name ‘Bhutan’. It is believed to have been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Bhotant’ which means ‘the edge of Tibet’ Or “Bhu-uttan” meaning ‘highland’. However, Bhutan is referred to as ‘Drukyul’ or Land of the Thunder Dragon by Bhutanese. Till 16th century, numerous clans and noble families ruled in different valleys throughout Bhutan, quarrelling among them and with Tibet. There are lots of religious as well as civil wars. This changed in 1616 with the after arrival of Ngawang Namgyal in 1616, a great master of the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism from Tibet. Later in the 17th century A.D, under the leadership of a great saint, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal various religious sects were unified under Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism in Bhutan. Ngawang Namgyal codified a comprehensive system of laws and built a chain of Dzongs. These Dzongs guarded each valley during wars but now serve as religious and administrative centre of each region.He unified Bhutan and the political system he established lasted until the beginning of the 20th century, the announcement of the Shabdrung’s death in 1705 was followed by 200 years of internal conflict and political infighting.

In 19th century gave way to peace after the Trongsa Governor, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, won over all his rivals. Subsequently, he was elected as the 1st Hereditary Monarch of the Wangchuk dynasty with a unanimous vote of Bhutan’s chiefs and principal lamas, as hereditary ruler of Bhutan in 1907. Thus the first king was crowned and the Wangchuck dynasty began. Over the following four decades, he and his heir, King Jigme Wangchuck, brought the entire country under the monarchy’s direct control. Upon independence in 1947, India recognized Bhutan as a sovereign country. Until the 1960s, Bhutan was largely isolated from the rest of the world, and its people carried on a tranquil, traditional way of life, farming and trading, which had remained intact for centuries. After China invaded Tibet, however, Bhutan strengthened its ties and contact with India in an effort to avoid Tibet’s fate. New roads and other connections to India began to end its isolation. In the 1960s, Bhutan also undertook social modernization, abolishing slavery and the caste system, emancipating women, and enacting land reform. In 1985, Bhutan made its first diplomatic links with non-Asian countries.

The Wangchuk Dynasty completed 100 years of rule in 2007. The fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, had espoused and implemented the policy of controlled development with particular focus on the preservation of the environment and Bhutan’s unique culture. Among his ideals is economic self-reliance and what has now become widely known as ‘Gross National Happiness’. His coronation on 2 June 1974 was the first time the international media were allowed to enter the Kingdom, and marked Bhutan’s debut appearance on the world stage. The first group of paying tourists arrived later that year. In major political reform in June 1998, the king dissolved the Council of Ministers and announced that ministers formerly appointed by him would need to stand for open election. In 1999 television and Internet were first introduced to Bhutan. In 1998, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who is Bhutan’s fourth hereditary ruler, voluntarily curtailed his absolute monarchy, and in March 2005 released a draft constitution that outlined plans for the country to shift to a two-party democracy. In Dec. 2006, he abdicated in favor of his son, and Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchukin became 5th king. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, took decentralization to the people, and devolved all executive powers to a council of ministers elected by the people in 1998, besides introducing a system of voting no confidence in the king, which empowered the parliament to remove the monarch. The national Constitution Committee started drafting the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan in 2001. The Draft Constitution was distributed to the people in 2005, which was followed by public consultation initiated by the 4th and 5th Kings. Its implementation will establish parliamentary democracy in the country.
The people in different villages of the gewog in turn elect the chimis (people’s repressentatives). The king is now the head of the state. The government is elected by the parliament for a five-year term, with the head of the government or post of prime minister rotating amongst the ministers. At the district level, Dzongda functions as the chief executive officer and the gup (gewog head man) elected by the people is the chief executive officer at gewog level. Under the policy of greater decentralization and empowerment of the people, the Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu and the Geog Yargye Tshogchung have been given full administrative, policy making and financial powers in their respective Dzongkhags. Therefore, the success of development programmes will now be determined by the decisions taken by the people and the quality of their participation in implementing them.