Portrait of a Surgeon

When the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) won in the 2018 elections and formed the government, it surprised many people. Critics and opponents waited to catch them making a mistake, to strip them and tell the people of Bhutan that a good doctor should remain in the hospital, treating patients, not engage in politics. 

The members of the ruling party had hardly warmed their seats when a virus besieged the world. COVID-19 did not spare any country, not even Bhutan. Saving lives became the priority. The government and people from all walks of life rallied behind His Majesty the King. When the virus was finally overpowered, Bhutan gained international recognition as a country, with very scarce resources that battled the pandemic successfully.

Was this the DNT government’s major achievement? In all humility, Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Dasho Lotay Tshering refuses to take the credit. He says it is not the DNT government but the government of Bhutan. He adds that the government of Bhutan and the people, stirred and inspired by His Majesty’s leadership played different roles to save lives. His message is simple – without His Majesty, Bhutan would have not won the war against the virus.

Then what has the government achieved?

As the PM pointed out in the last Meet the Press on 27th October 2023, their pledge of free Wi-Fi services seems to veil whatever the government has done. Further, people call him an unorthodox politician; one who made decisions losing sight of existing and probable supporters. It appeared as if he had forgotten that there would be elections towards the end of 2023. “This is the rule. I cannot go against it. It does not matter if you vote for me or not in the coming elections.” The PM said so in several instances, in many parts of the country.

Was it because he was not in a hospital, conducting surgery, and out of his comfort zone? No! The PM says. And he has rational reasons for everything he has done, out of which his argument that the country comes first stands out. Without elaborating, he says, “I am a Bhutanese first.” He concedes that he has had to be tough and openly seeks forgiveness from those hurt by his actions. He says that he does not know “how to play politics.”

Now! Is this the unorthodox politician or one who equally knows how to cut and stitch in the halls of political drama just as he does in the operation theaters? Only the doctor, the politician can answer this.

Nonetheless, PM Dasho Dr. Lotay Tshering served and as he says, “may have failed, too.” He is a leader, for he kept hold of his flock. He believes in learning and following, the traits of leaders. He has had to make sacrifices he never would have fathomed, such as sleeping in his office alone.

Bhutan is a small place. One need not put in much effort to assess the performance of a government. It is visible. Further, criticism and even condemnation come with politics, and with the elections at the doorstep, the PM knows he will be bombarded. However, we ought to give him the credit he deserves, especially for standing right behind His Majesty at a point when Bhutan is undergoing unprecedented transformation.

And for telling the world that a surgeon’s skills can also be used effectively in governance.