The will-he, won’t-he guessing game ended on Saturday when South Asia’s political royal scion Rahul Gandhi made an appearance on the second day of the wedding celebrations of Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk.
In his trademark white kurta and black jacket, Rahul Gandhi, along with 30,000 Bhtuanese at Changlimithang stadium, witnessed the 31-year-old King kiss a nervous queen on her lips. He first kissed her on the cheeks and then asked the crowd if he should kiss on her lips. They roared, “Yes”.
The King then joined a vigorous zhey dance with the prime minister, the cabinet and all the MPs. The King’s father Jigme Singye Wangchuk and his four queens were seen explaining the dance to Gandhi.
Earlier, the couple inspected their first guard of honour by the Royal Bhutan Army at the majestic 17th century fortress, Tashichho dzong, which also houses the King’s office.
Gandhi, the only foreign guest for this private function, was escorted to the venue by the King’s father who abdicated at 54 to introduce democracy. Gandhi was introduced to members of the royal family and to the chief abbot who presided over the wedding.
Tashichho dzong has a special connection to the Gandhi family as Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi are the only women to have stayed overnight in the historic building.
For religious reasons, tradition prescribes that women cannot enter this building after sunset or before sunrise. When Indira Gandhi visited Bhutan as prime minister in 1968 there were no official guest houses and the then King didn’t want her to stay in a tent as was custom at that time. He consulted the chief Buddhist abbot, who declared that a prime minister was a prime minister and sex had no relevance in this.
The Gandhi family’s ties with the Bhutan royals date to the 1950s after then PM Jawaharlal Nehru visited the country on the back of a yak accompanied by young Indira. He encouraged the present King’s grandfather, the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, to end Bhutan’s policy of isolation and accept India’s help in setting up roads and infrastructure.
“If we view India-Bhutan friendship through the prism of simplicity, the perspective of fundamental human values... it began as a bond between two men — two leaders — and our best future lies in an unaltering bond between our two peoples,” the King had said in a speech last year about the relationship of his grandfather and Nehru.