from Bartsham, Trashigang
It’s 9 in in the morning. The setting is natural and crisp: a clearing in the woods of Trashang Chiwog under Bartsham Gewog in Trashigang. An hour and half’s drive from the core town, a rambling, rough road leads up to the picturesque emerald hills of the remote chiwog in the largest gewog of the east.
A few villagers comprising middle-aged men and women are huddled closely together by the clearing, and the size of the gathering is increasing by the minute.
Today, the common forum for the Bartsham Local Government (LG) aspirants is on the cards and the people, now a sizable crowd, by the look of it, does not want to miss it.
Turns out that the five candidates: the only Gup contestant, three Mangmi contestants and the lone chiwog Tshogpa candidate who have turned up to field themselves are not lacking in prowess of speech.
What catches immediate attention, however, are the Mangmi candidates not only because they form the maximum number of attending competitors for a single post but for the group’s mixed medley.
The introductions begin: Dorjila from Muktangkhar Chiwog, a 45-year-old with an easy smile and likable way of speaking; Ngawang Tshering, in his mid-30s, from Benangkhar Nangkhar Chiwog whose main pledge is “youth advocacy” in villages, and Gatu, 50, from Kumung Jamung Chiwog, gentleman-veteran who served as Tshogpa in the first LG, and Mangmi in the second.
Dorjila who served as Tshogpa earlier, promises to provide irrigation facilities to the farmers of Bartsham, and improve conditions for agricultural work.
He also wants to help establish a community forest for the gewog since it has none. “I promise to work overtime for the people if they elect me so that I am available always,” he says adding that to do so, he would shift his place to the gewog center.
Another burden he wants to reduce is firewood collection by the community for the village lhakhang.
“We can think of alternatives.”
Meanwhile, the second Mangmi candidate, who addresses the crowd, Ngawang Tshering, a Class X graduate, is the most highly qualified in terms of schooling. He makes no bones about the fact as he says: “without education, little can be done.”
A former taxi driver, he wants to “inspire youth” by example, and ensure that monetary collections from the economically challenged villagers for community service is reduced as far as possible through seeking financial help from civil servants and taxi drivers.
He also plans to provide fruit seedlings to farmers so that they can boost their farm produce. “For this, I took a short agricultural course with Rural Development Training Center in 2008,” he adds.
Finally, Gatu who is no amateur to LG politics comes across as a soft-spoken, unassuming man compared to the gregarious Dorjila and the confident Ngawang Tshering.
Though Gatu hardly completed primary schooling, his fellow villagers asked him to re-contest because of his sheer experience. According to him, local leaders have to work under higher authorities and this often limits their powers, but he plans to “settle disputes between people, resolve census issues, introduce life insurance scheme, and build more farm roads”.
The informative but laughter-punctuated zomdu ends as Gatu in his typical mellow style declares: “Though I was asked to re-contest, the winner will be decided based on his capability, and it’s for you all to decide.”
In the primary round, Dorjila was voted “yes” by 47 out of 56; Ngawang Tshering got 80 “yes” votes and 55 “no” votes while Gatu garnered 91 “yes” votes out of 97 votes.
Some villagers who attended the zomdu on conditions of anonymity shared that they felt Gatu and Dorjila were the stronger of the contenders.
Bartsham Gewog has 2,279 registered voters: 1,094 male and 1,185 female of an actual population of 4,067. Its current residential population is over 2,000.