Monday, March 21, 2011
THE MANY AVATARS OF MR PRIME MINISTER
The last couple of weeks have been a roller coaster ride, and the Prime Minister, Lyonchen Jigmi Y Thinley, has not only been in the midst of it all but has, to use a metaphor, steered that roller coaster ride with his hands firmly on the grills. Even as shouts and screams abounded at the back, he calmly went about the business of providing not just the thrills of such an adrenaline rush but did so in his own unique way – with no casualties
EVEN AS the Opposition filed the case and the High Court delivered the verdict against his government, the Prime Minister went about the business of running the country. The High Court verdict got a huge kick when the case was appealed to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court also ruled in favor of the Opposition. It was at the Meet the Press session during a brief pause of the extensive Mid Term Review tour that he received the news. But it hardly shook the Lyonchen, as he gracefully accepted the ruling, and went on to make his case about the need for government to function and the Liberal Interpretation of the Constitution. The MTR tour resumed and he was back where he was required most, for reasons that are obvious – seeing at the grassroots level how the Tenth Plan was shaping.
Even as the capital and the local intelligentsia was neck deep in the matter trying to figure out the pros and cons of what the government did wrong or where the Lyonchen erred, the man himself was making the connect with the very people with whom he created a special bond during the 2008 campaign. In a way, the MTR was the Lyonchen’s deterrent to the critics at large. “You do what you re doing and I’ll do what I’ve to do, which is to make sure that the people living in our dzongkhags, gewogs and chiwogs are heard, reassured and taken care of,” was the message he seemed to be relaying from the boondocks. And that is no mean feat. The Lyonchen is aware and knows the grassroots well enough to shed off his aristocratic lineage, his sophisticated upbringing and the halls of prestigious learning he was schooled in.
The Lyonchen is able to connect, from an illiterate farmer to a proven intellectual. It is this particular trait, among the many chameleon-like avatars he so effortlessly transforms into, that makes him what he is: indispensible with open and begrudging admirers. It is no secret that when initial news of his resignation made the grapevine, there was a sense of palpable fear in the air. The question was simple, “who will fill in this immense vacuum?” But those fears were nothing but a gauge and a wager put in to let people realize that his government was on the right moral track.
As the MTR neared its expansive discussions and finally concluded, the reaction from the government to the Supreme Court’s verdict was prompt and powerful. The Lyonchen held an impromptu Meet the Press session and with Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba and Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu by his side, he began the first formal stance of the government since the brouhaha had ensued. The air was filled with anticipation and in a very somber but clear take, the Lyonchen began elucidating the position of his government. Beginning in Dzongkha, he explained the dilemma of the moral quandary created by subjective lapses by way of how the government’s position was perceived and contorted, and the sense of aggrievement the government felt. But having stated that, he also made it abundantly clear that the government had done no wrong, least of which were the accusations of unconstitutional acts. The decision taken up by the government, in view of that grave accusation and verdict, was very clear. “The decision to dissolve the government” was the unanimous call of the party, led by the Lyonchen himself.
“We are all in this boat together, and as President of the Party and as Prime Minister, I’m responsible” were some of the pointed justifications. Having clarified how gravely the government regarded the matter, the Lyonchen explained, both in Dzongkha and subsequently in English, and perhaps done so to make certain that the press understood with abundant clarity, where and why they had decided to do what they did.
He explained that the government could not, in the interest of democracy and in the interest of the Triple Gem - King, Country and People, leave the country in such a fragile and volatile situation by resigning -that his government would continue to serve the Triple Gem. This was further etched in stone when he explained that such precedence would bode well for future governments but having clarified that, the Lyonchen made it absolutely clear that his government had committed no immoral or unconstitutional acts. “Nobody has profited from my government from trying to impose and introduce taxes that would have benefitted the poor majority” was the crux of his taxing justification. The judiciary also must be questioned, he asserted. Questioned so that the judiciary can also mature and grow in strength and credibility. That together with his government’s actions, every other institution – whether private or otherwise should also be rightfully questioned should there be lapses in judgment, action and execution.
That nobody was above the law but strengthening the institutions and bodies that make up those laws must be strengthened. That this can only be done with transparency and accountability.
A day after that in an informal audience with editors of the media houses, the Lyonchen appeared not only relaxed and welcoming, but did so in a manner that is uniquely his own – with frankness and receptive informality. He encouraged criticisms and suggestions as to where his government stood in the larger and smaller scheme of things.
Among the many questions, suggestions and issues brought up by the editors, the one that received a lot of thought was the Supreme Court’s verdict. “Would the government accept the Supreme Court’s verdict in light of the general consensus that taxation was the right thing to do? Would it not be an irony of immense proportions if the government caved in and said, “we tried and we failed!” For talks would surface amounting to doubts as to whether the government really had genuine motives in implementing the taxation policy – that pursuing it with the majority they hold in parliament in the longer run would do more good than harm.
That if the government now disposed of that proposal they fought for so passionately, it would mean they actually never meant it. And if this happens to be the case, perhaps the government and the Lyonchen never really meant it. The questions were straightforward and also metaphorical, because in a sense, all the media coverage and all the debates and the discussions would amount to nothing if the government were to be lost in the details of what is the legal jargon, sensible only to a few. The question now comes back to the same questions raised by the Lyonchen himself: Moral Accountability. If public view and sentiment is any indicator, then the lens of accountability is firmly back on the Lyonchen. In a word, the Lyonchen and his government are in a “spotlight.” And that spotlight will reflect the true intentions behind the call for taxation.
The Lyonchen is a man of many seasons and flavors with a gift for feeling the “pulse’ and “touch” of the times. The MTR has been a success by any margin. The government’s decision to bulldoze CDG is still a bone of contention, together with State Funding for Political Parties. That said, the watch on the tax is glaringly clear, and this time around, this particular issue might prove to be the Trojan Horse or Achilles’ Heel, that will perhaps, reveal another facet of the man, the politician and the person that is the Prime Minister, Lyonchen Jigmi Y Thinly.