Introduces GNH - Gross National Happiness
Bhutan a shining example to the world
On Monday, March 24 while violence was
flaring on one side of the Himalayas, in
Tibet, with Tibetans clashing with the
Chinese authorities, on the other side in
the peaceful and tiny Himalayan kingdom of
Bhutan, a unique political event took place.
A hundred year old political dynasty was
willingly surrendering its absolute power to
a parliament and the 26-year-old King Jigme
Khesar Namgyel was to become a modern
Even more strange was that the people did
not want this change to democracy. They
wanted their king. A foreign commentator had
noted that even if there was a referendum,
the people would have preferred the monarchy
The person behind this unique transformation
was the former Kking Jigme Singye Wangchuk
who was crowned in 1972 at the age of 17
years and became the youngest monarch of the
world at that time.
He ended the long period of isolation of his
country known as the Dragon Kingdom by
commencing relations with the outside world
and introducing 'slow modernisation' while
preserving Bhutan's Buddhist culture.
Etiquette and manners
In 1988 the king instituted the policy of
Driglam Namzha (Etiquette and Manners) such
as requiring all citizens to wear their
traditional clothes and establishing the
teaching of the national language in
While establishing close links with India he
also brought in radical socio economic
measures such as the abolition of slavery
and the caste system, emancipated women and
brought about land reform.
What attracted him to the outside world was
that he introduced 'happiness' as a factor
in determining social progress. He measured
economic progress in terms of GNH - Gross
Even though the idea may appear corny to
traditional economists it is gaining
increased acceptance by leading economists.
That was probably why he was named by Time
Magazine in 2006 as 'one of the 100 people
who shape the world.'
An American economist, Bruno S Frey, has
noted that even though the discipline of
economics has much to do with human well
being, economists have shied away from
factoring the study of human happiness.
To most people happiness is an unscientific
concept even though it is a universal
desire. It is pointed out that even the
American Declaration of Independence has the
'pursuit of happiness' as one main
Gross Human Happiness
This concept of GNH would no doubt be of
wide interest to people of the Third World
who often see rising GNPs and GDPs of their
countries' economies but remain as poor and
miserable as ever.
A good example is
itself, which now has a GDP of over six per
cent but the poor are unable to make their
ends meet. India too had a rising GDP under
the BJP government but it was routed at the
polls because poor farmers had not benefited
from that economic development.
Promoters of the GNH concept point out that
conventional development models stress on
growth as the ultimate objective; the
concept of the GNH is based on the premise
that true development of society is when
material and spiritual development take
place side by side. However much more
research has to be done on this concept,
many have pointed out.
For example GNH has no exact definition. It
is said to be an attempt to define the
quality of life in more holistic and
The criticisms made against the GNH is
mainly on the grounds that it depends on a
series of subjective judgements which
governments may be able to define in a way
to suit their interests.
One example cited is in Bhutan itself where
100,000 Nepalese considered as illegal
immigrants were expelled. It would have
reduced the wealth of
which will be reflected in the GDP but
others maintain it will not affect the GNH.
This concept of the GNH whether it will come
to be acceptable by economists or not, will
be welcome because it is an instance where a
non Western country has dared to stray off
the beaten Western track and produce some
King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, is a shining
example for Third World countries,
particularly those of South Asia for
voluntarily giving up the arbitrary power he
enjoyed, abdicating and passing the throne
to his son to be a constitutional monarch
and introducing democracy to a country which
has never known it.
Whether democracy and modernisation will
prove to be better for the Bhutanese than
their simple and traditional ways of living
is to be seen.