Barring some boos when certain politicians appeared on the giant monitors, it was never a political gathering. And it was nothing like a musical concert where crowds wait hours or camp overnight, knowing that what is to happen would delight their eyes and ears. The hundreds of thousands of Thais who converged at the Royal Plaza and surrounding area on December 5 were not motivated by political ambition or desire to see or hear anything pleasant. Everybody knew it was going to be hot and absolutely jammed, that to be there they must get up before the birds, and that, once there, they shouldn’t expect to see anything spectacular or hear rousing speeches.
His Majesty the King’s appearance on the balcony of the Throne Hall did not last much longer than a simple piece of music, and his speech was shorter than an introduction by a host at a key event. Most of the assembled Thais did not see him in the flesh and had to rely on the big screens. Not that they were worried. And there was nothing new in this particular speech, either. As usual, His Majesty thanked his people and wished them well. As usual he reminded them of the virtue of unity. And as usual he expressed confidence in the strength of the nation, no matter how deep the trouble it has been in recently.
When it comes from your heart, you can’t alter it that much, and in the end there isn’t much new to offer. For years and years, His Majesty has thanked the Thai people, given them strength and taught them the right way to go about in this world. He rarely veers off course, and when he occassionally does – like when he said rich people are not necessarily good – he means to tell his people to remain dignified regardless of how much money they have. The monarch never provokes. He never pits his people against each other.
His people know that. Their last gathering for him was therefore meant to give and not to take. The phrase “I didn’t come to see him, but I came so he could see us” symbolised the massive convergence, distinguishing it from any other crowd. When political activists try to drum up rallies, vowing to safeguard the throne, thousands – or tens of thousands at best – show up. On December 5, when politics temporarily faded, giving way to an occasion to express sincere support and pure love, an ocean of yellow-shirted citizens materialised at the Royal Plaza and beyond.
“You are more than dust” is a statement often used to question the relevance of Thailand’s monarchy. To some, kneeling, bowing or having to stand up in movie theatres is a really big issue. They think it’s derogatory for Thais to decribe themselves as lower than dirt under his shoes. To them, this is more important than the fact that any Thai can live a perfectly happy life without having to kneel, bow, put his photo up at home or sing the royal anthems. The truth is, “dust under his shoes” can go as high as they want, whether they would die for him or don’t love him that much.
The “yellow dust” knows that the monarch is never responsible for tax or land policies that favour the rich, or abuse by the powers-that-be. They know that drug problems, the threats of the local “mafia” to rural livelihoods, or why poor farmers are taken advantage of, have absolutely nothing to do with His Majesty’s existence. They know that while “human rights” are always invoked by those not agreeing with the love shown to him, they have every right themselves to feel what they feel. And they know, more than anybody else, that what they feel comes straight from the hearts without prompting by any forceful law.
The “yellow dust” is well connected and understands democracy. They can differentiate when politics gets too close and they know that the term the “King is above politics” requires commitment by all sides. They don’t deny seeing him as divine, but that is only because of what he does and stands for, as well as his unquestionable intention for the Thai nation. They know that if the monarch really had his say, Thailand’s education system would be far better. They don’t know if he could liberate all Thai farmers, but they know that if he was given a free hand to help the poor population, he would do his best without any hidden agenda.
The “yellow dust” has all kinds of trouble. To know that one man of such high status shares it with them – albeit in his own mythical way – is enough. On December 5, it was all about paying back that care. The repayment came in the form of a sea of yellow that they wanted him to see. In proud self-mockery, each speck of dust came together to defy another school of thought that tries to tell them they are “more than that”. They probably are, albeit in their own loyal way. Tulsathit Taptim