My earliest memories of the country that was to evolve as the proud People’s Republic of Bangladesh were forged in the fluid mind of a young schoolboy in a most traumatic manner. One late Autumn- evening in 1971, or thereabouts, the office of the then sub-divisional officer, roughly equivalent to the present-day dzongda, in Samtse, invited us to watch a black and white documentary film that was horrific in every sense of the term. My friends and I, who had recently arrived from Dorokha and were admitted to the Samtse central school and housed in one of the empty rooms of
the office, were in for the most unsettling experience of our tender lives. The school had no hostel then but the life-tested senior S.D.O., Mr. Sonam Gyamtsho, was a most noble soul to provide home to the homeless young boys inside his government office building.On the screen fixed in the open courtyard of the office flashed unremitting images of heart-rending wailing and of desperate children, women and men running helter-skelter, in every direction. They were bleeding, countless were maimed, many were bereft of clothes on their bodies. These innocent children, frail women and unarmed men were running for their lives to escape the barrage of heavy machine-gun fire from the invading army. It was difficult to make sense of that bloody spectacle. We were told later that East Pakistan was under attack. Today, I understand better the scale and significance of the War of Independence that led to the birth of a brand new nation.
The incredible heroism and selfless sacrifice of the patriotic people of East Pakistan led by the fiery Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman triumphed and Jatir Pita “was able to make the dream of freedom that Bengalis had been dreaming for a thousand years come true” as noted by his beloved daughter, Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, the renowned Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in her peerless father’s The Unfinished Memoirs.
Bhutan has followed closely the birth and evolution of the great nation with immense pride and deep involvement. The Father of Modern Bhutan Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck was the first Head of State and Bhutan the first country in the world to recognise Bangladesh as an independent, sovereign country poised to chart her own chosen destiny befitting the sacred dreams and aspirations of a great people with an amazing heritage.
His Majesty’s letter of December 6, 1971 addressed to the Acting President of Bangladesh was as passionate as it was direct befitting the compelling call of the moment and the wish for the well-being of a new nation.
The personal involvement of Bhutan’s King and her people during a most crucial period in its history was most graciously acknowledged by the Government of Bangladesh, and over the years, the friendship forged in need has flourished in diverse spheres indeed. It is truly remarkable to note that Bhutan Lottery was introduced for the first time to help with the relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating war. My elder brother recalls selling the lottery tickets for Nu.1 per ticket.
Today, Bangladesh is a success story of an amazing order, growing by leaps and bounds, in all spheres of human and societal development and is all set to graduate to the status of a developing country in tandem with Bhutan in 2023. Bangladesh and Bhutan meet at multiple points – diplomatic, social, cultural, economic, and human above all. We are the founding members of the SAARC family of nations and belong to the BIMSTEC fraternity apart from being members of several regional and international institutions.We share the same hopes and dreams for our people and our nations and indeed for our planet Earth and the world. We care for our children and their future and the future of humanity and are committed to securing their well-being as our common commitment. Forged over many years by successive generations of our leaders, the Bangladesh-Bhutan relationship celebrates personal bonds between heads of states and governments and links our peasants in remote communities.
Besides our ever-growing trade partnership, the Bangladesh-Bhutan collaboration has expanded into educational, health, environmental, technological, agricultural, artistic and even spiritual spheres, enriched by a mutually supportive spirit based on integrity and goodwill at each level. Bangladesh has opened its heart and its doors to generations of Bhutanese scholars and citizens who have brought home strategic expertise in critical fields even as experts from Bangladesh have earned the respect of the Bhutanese people and the government for their valuable service in diverse fields. Today’s signing of the Preferential Trade Agreement is the culmination of many years of goodwill and partnership.
People-to-people relationships have been a most beautiful element of our bilateral engagement over the years. On a more personal level, even an ordinary Bhutanese like me have had my own share of good fortune. It was always with a deep sense of joy and respect that I shared a common space and kindred dreams with the honourable former Minister of Higher Education, His Excellency Dr Nurul Islam, who remains my elder brother in Dhaka. We had a sacred wish to link our Himalayan educational institutions through our distinctive experience as inheritors of a shared heritage. It is a different matter that our dream couldn’t materialise.
Similarly, I had the joy of meeting and sharing stage with the former Minister of External Affairs and current Education Minister, Her Excellency Dr Dipu Moni, and of addressing common concerns about the future of our children. I received and hosted several cultural, diplomatic, trade and educational delegations from Bangladesh during my tenure as president of the Royal Thimphu College. Successive ambassadors and officials of the Embassy of Bangladesh in Thimphu have been most gracious with me in their friendship and goodwill.
And, indeed, invitations to participate in diverse events organised by the Embassy have enabled me to discover the fabulous richness of the cultural, artistic and intellectual wealth of Bangladesh. Above all, being part of the host-country and having an audience with Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, the honourable Prime Minister, during the historic 16th SAARC Summit in 2010 in Thimphu was a high point indeed.
As the People’s Republic of Bangladesh celebrates the golden jubilee of the founding of the great nation, and honours the timeless legacy of the Father of the Nation, this land of myriad colours and contrasts can take legitimate pride in the multiple milestones that it has crossed as a vanguard of innovation and enterprise, bold experiments and breath-taking achievements. Unremitting challenges posed by natural calamities and lingering economic disparities have not deterred this buoyant nation that provides home and hearth to the displaced and the deprived even as it sends it sons and daughters to keep peace in the troubled regions of the world far away from home as the country pursues its expanding role in global affairs.
This land of geniuses, artists and philanthropists, thought-leaders and path-finders, tillers of soil and makers of masterpieces, riders on the sea, builders on land, and gazers of the sky is a gift as Nature gave it, and a miracle as its recipients made it by right and responsibility.
On the most joyous occasion of the golden jubilee year of the establishment of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the year-long celebration of the birth centenary of Jatir Janak Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I offer my fervent prayers for the blessings of peace, prosperity and happiness for the great nation and the people of Sonar Bangla forever.
The writer is a former Minister of Education Royal Government of Bhutan