Sir Ugyen Wangchuck emerged as a central power in the early 1900’s. He stood out as a competent diplomat, capable of handling the British influence on the Bhutanese polity. Seeing their secure future in the hands of this great personality, the people of Bhutan unanimously enthroned him as the First King of Bhutan (Druk Gyalpo) in 1907. The first King reconsolidated the country under one central power, streamlined the governance, promoted culture and religion, and strengthened the nation’s sovereignty. Bhutan established cordial relation with the British India by signing the treaty of 1910. The country became an independent buffer between the British India and Tibet (Dorji, Lham, 2008: ii).
The second King Druk Gyalpo Jigme Wangchuck ruled the country from 1926 to 1952. Known for his reformist and stern moralist tendencies, His Majesty focused on creating an egalitarian society through strict enforcement of the rule of law and tax reforms. Bhutan used the traditional policy of self-imposed isolation to safeguard itself from the critical events taking places in the world. The second King updated the 1910 treaty (with India) in 1949 (Dorj, 2008: iii).
The third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck ruled the country from 1952 to 1972. Three major developments took place during his reign. First, to the Kingdom’s security relation with India was added the economic and development aspect. Second, the country’s modernization-road building and Five Year Plans were launched. And third, the Kingdom was opened to the outside world (2008: iii). Bhutan became a member of the United Nations Organization (UNO) in 1971.
The King ended the feudalism in the country by freeing the indentured servants from their landlords. The in-kind taxation was transformed into a cash-based system. His Majesty initiated several political reforms: separation of the governance into the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary branches, transfer of decision-making and legislative powers to the National Assembly (established in 1953); and establishment of the High Court (1968) and the Council of Ministers. For all these social, economic and political reforms, the third King is today remembered as the `Father of Modern Bhutan’ (2008: iv).
The fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck ruled the country from 1972 to 2006. During his reign, Bhutan saw an unprecedented peace, security, prosperity and happiness. His Majesty emerged as one of the greatest leaders in Asia. For his great leadership, the King was named as one of the Time Magazine’s top hundred ‘People Who Shape Our World’ in 2006.
His Majesty was a humble and selfless leader for whom the welfare of the people always stood above his own. The King authored the idea that ‘Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important than Gross Domestic Product’. This GNH principle served as the basis for the country’s balanced socio-economic development, good governance, preservation of its unique culture, and conservation of environment.
Bhutan revised the treaty of 1949 on February 10, 2006. This was a historic under-taking. New treaty replaced the article 2 (that Bhutan will seek India’s guidance in its foreign affairs) by the article that fosters Bhutan’s economic cooperation with India. It was a mark of the sovereignty fully gained.
The fourth King abdicated the Throne in 2006 with a sense of fulfillment, the works accomplished and uncertainties solved. The way the King handed over the country’s destiny to the people in most sacred and peaceful manner (2008: v) was something unlikely to happen elsewhere. Bhutan’s ushering into a parliamentary democracy in 2008 was uniquely Bhutanese.
The fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck acceded to the Golden Throne on November 6, 2008. This took place when the country was peacefully transformed into a new democracy. The Coronation 2008 marked the dawn of another era in the history of Bhutan. The new King embodies the past as well as the optimism and inspiration for the future. Within few years, the People’s King has proven himself as an open, positive and selfless leader, deeply devoted to the cause of his people. His Majesty is deeply committed to achieve peace and tranquility; sovereignty and security; Gross National Happiness; strong economy and vibrant democracy for Bhutan (2008: vi).