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The red scarf is one of the most coveted awards given by His Majesty to outstanding citizens of the country. The red scarf is an institution in itself. On December 17, His Majesty gave away the honor of the red scarf to four prominent citizens. It is interesting to note that this year’s awardees are young and His Majesty specifically mentioned that the red scarf was not given for what they have already done but for the “dedicated and fruitful service they will offer to the People and Nation in the years to come.”


This is a major change and it comes at a time when the country desperately needs young and future leaders. His Majesty has used the institution of the red scarf to deliver a very important message that we need to recognize the latent potential in young leaders. It also tells us to challenge our conventional belief to rely on age and experience to lead the country. It tells us to adapt to the reality of the changing times.


Looking back in history, we realize that the throne has always used the institution of the red scarf to consolidate the institutional process of nation building. After Bhutan opened itself to the world in 1961, the most important task was to build a governance structure for which we needed leaders. The throne applauded the contribution of leaders by awarding the red scarf to many of our past leaders. It was a time when literacy level was low and we needed leaders at all levels. Thus, it apparently seemed at a point in time when the red scarf was a right for leaders when they reached a certain level. For example, there was a time when all dzongdas in the country were red scarf officials. But with development, times changed and the need for the times also changed and the red scarf eventually became rarer. It was also a sign that of a country developing.


Today, we are in a much better position than when we began the process of modernization in 1961. Therefore, we need leaders of a much different breed. Thus, His Majesty’s gesture of awarding the red scarf to four young leaders is both a sign of continuity and change. It is a continuity of the priority placed by the throne to use the red scarf in the nation-building process. It is also a call for change of our conventional ways and to adapt to the times.


Giving the red scarf to the four future leaders of different backgrounds also dispelled the wrongly held popular belief that the red scarf is given only to civil servants. The honor of the red scarf does is not subjected to the office one represents. The way things are going, it is only a matter of time that the red scarf will be given to people in the private sector or any other sector.