Late KB Khadka was a popular social activist within and outside Bhutanese refugee community. Bhutanese refugee community around the world is now mourning his unexpected death. IP Adhikari of BNS had talked to late Khadka and two other leaders about Bhutan’s concept of Gross National Happiness before 18 months. This discussion was broadcast live from Nepal FM 91.8 in Kathmandu via Saranarthi Sarokar. Adhikari converted the interview into texts. Excerpts:
Moderator: Welcome to all listeners who have been waiting for radio program Saranarthi Sarokar. Today we have invited three guests to prepare this episode. They are Gopal Gurung, K. B. Khadka and Pratap Subba. With these three people, who have played leading role since 1990 for establishment of democracy and human rights in Bhutan, we shall talk about the Gross National Happiness. You are welcome to this show once again.
Moderator: I shall like to introduce our listeners about Gross National Happiness before going ahead with the discussion. The ideology is claimed to be formulated by Bhutan’s fourth monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuk. The ideology has been much talked after its first international conference in 2003 in Thimphu. It has become the issue of debate in world forums after the second international conference in Canada (2005) and third international conference in Thailand (2007). World social scientists are deliberating whether this principle can be brought into practice for measuring human development. Today’s discussion will focus on if the GNH is relevant in Bhutanese and international contexts at this hour. I shall begin with Pratap Subba. Being a Bhutanese national, how happy are you now?
Pratap Subba: The situation within the country is not conducive to be happy. And as I live a refugee life here, there is no point to be happy. I am not satisfied with the idea scholars are trying to find measuring rod for happiness in people. There is vast economic diversity among people in the world. I think, our king has formulated policy while sitting at his palace. It would have been more practical had he consulted the people who live in worst conditions in rural areas.
K. B. Khadka: The idea of GNH is subtle to listen. GNH is possible in those societies where peace exists and various ethnic groups live together in harmony. One-sixth of the country’s population live as refugees and other large population have the challenges to meet their two meals a day. In urban areas, the government officials drive on santro and bolero and the rulers who survive through taxes paid by poor people. In this context, I think those living a luxury life around the world were amused by the idea of GNH. The word gross also means twelve dozens. So, only 144 people in Bhutan should be happy.
Moderator: Now I ask Gopal Gurung: how happy are you as a Bhutanese national?
Gopal Gurung: If you see the graph, I had never been happy in my life (like many Bhutanese). People live in the most remote parts of the country. Power lines of 11,000 volts runs up from their houses but underneath these houses remain dark in evenings. Though the idea of GNH is good, but it has been poorly implemented in Bhutan.
Moderator: Before I turn to K. B. Khadka, I would like to add a context here. In 2006, a group of socialists claimed that Bhutan is happiest among Asian nations and eighth in world. So, how can you say Bhutan is not happy when you are not?
K. B. Khadka: I think, the socialists have failed in their researches, because Bhutan should have been placed at the top of the list. In a society, where people cannot speak what they feel due to fear of prosecution, where you carry out survey among limited people in Thimphu having close links with royal family or influential leaders, how can you find there are still few people who are not happy?
Moderator: Might be the experts surveyed among the people living in luxury in Thimphu. Do you see any other reasons behind that?
Pratap Subba: It is understandable that people did not speak frankly even if they are unhappy under the absolute rule of the king. I still feel awkward to say Bhutan is happy. Repeatedly the borders (with India) are closed. Movements of people between the two countries are restricted. How is happiness measured? I wonder, whether it is measured by enough two meals and day’s work. There are various ways how you can be happy: people cannot be happy only with money. They can build palace but cannot buy dreams and sound sleeps. I have not understood if GNH means the happiness of building a palace or having sound sleep in ramshackle huts in villages. However, the concept is praiseworthy if it is practically implemented.
Moderator: Mr Gurung, do think the philosophy of happiness can practically be implemented in Bhutan today?
Gopal Gurung: The government has to be committed for its implementation. Bhutan does not have any factsheet how much grants and donations it receives from donors. Bhutan is such a small even it terms of its population that donations are enough to run the state. Yet, Bhutan has big potential of internal revenue – hydropower and cash crops. Even the stones in Bhutan get their value. Government projects the per capita income of individual Bhutanese of about 300 US dollars. However, the residents in villages are unaware of this. It is far to expect happiness in people when they have not felt the winds of development. There is no rationality that people, whose children walk hours to reach schools, remain happy with the way they live. If the government sincerely distributes the foreign donations for equitable development of the country, happiness can prevail. In addition to that the regime must also exploit the internal economic potentials. The gravity of corruption prevalent in Bhutan is incomparable to any other countries. Hundreds and thousands are spent for a single visit of king. If such unfathomable expenses are diverted to the welfare of rural populace, this new concept (GNH) can meet its objectives.
Moderator: Gurung talked about development for happiness. Development is part of the GNH along with protection of culture, preservation of environment and economic development. By the end of 2008, Bhutan said it attained 8.5 percent GPD growth rate and is considered the most harmonious society in South Asia. The income generated through sale of many hydropower plants can help build infrastructure development in the country.
Let me turn to Pratap Subba. In recent years, there have emerged little sparks of rebellion in Bhutan. If Bhutan and all Bhutanese had been very happy, why do you think such waves of armed rebellion came up?
Pratap Subba: The indications are to show all people in Bhutan are not happy. Whoever might have done that, the reality is absence of happiness in Bhutan. They might be happy with the concept of king but there might be other factors which make them unhappy.
Moderator: Mr Khadka, you had raised two things earlier – the sociologists failed because Bhutan should have been the happiest country in the world. Secondly, you said only those in the upper strata of the Bhutanese society are happy. How do you bridge the contradiction?
K. B. Khadka: I already said, they did not reach all places. Surveys might have been carried out in the areas already prescribed by the government. Let’s consider, the surveyors are allowed to reach the villages. Here, everyone is clear, these villages are scrutinized to speak against the regime. We all Bhutanese know, the local administration orient the local villagers how to speak and what to say whenever visitors come to villages.
Moderator: What is the basis of you claim?
K. B. Khadka: There is no freedom in Bhutan, there is no democracy and there is no right to expression. People have to obey what the absolute regime tells, speak only those things which are instructed. We don’t know the exact scenes how survey was carried out but the fact is, schedule for such foreign groups are prepared by the government and there are ample rooms for the government to prepare the grounds.
You can see the level of liberty. Only those who served in the government earlier were allowed to register their parties, others denied. This might have infuriated rebellion. We have read the news about United Revolutionary Front under the leadership of Karma, which could have been run by residents from within the country. The rebellion is the birth of compulsion and circumstances. It is not the result of someone’s whims. The international experts might rethink of their assumptions on Bhutan after these incidences.
If the government really wants a conducive ground for GNH principle flourish in the world, it must at the earliest repatriate all those evicted in 1990, allow them enjoy their religions and cultural rights and create environment whereby people from all sections of life can appreciate the endeavor of the king towards bringing happiness in the country. Let it not be like the ‘One Nation One People’ policy.
Moderator: Do you mean GNH could invite division in Bhutanese society like what One Nation One People policy did in 1990?
K. B. Khadka: One of the components of the GNH is social harmony. Do you believe Bhutan has maintained it? The government has different policy to look at the Nepali speaking population in southern Bhutan still today.
Moderator: I ask Gopal Gurung, what is your study on social harmony in present Bhutan?
Gopal Gurung: Social harmony in Bhutan – before or after 1990 – does not exist as has been claimed by the government. And it is constantly eroding due to the behavior of the government. We have seen and faced what disaster ‘One Nation One People’ policy brought. All Bhutanese are not happy even inside Bhutan and I fear GNH might also bring similar consequences.
See the recent elections. The government denied registering Bhutan National People’s United Party just because government saw majority of the party members are Nepali speakers. So, people under the banner of this party are not happy. It gave no hints that Bhutanese people can enjoy their democratic rights even after Bhutan endorses party politics.
Moderator: Mr Subba, what people expect from the government towards their culture, religion and customs?
Pratap Subba: In early days, people from all (ethnic groups) used to come together for Hindu rituals. Not politicians just pretend they respect Hinduism; smaller functions used to be- organized in Thimphu. People expect government would support to their cultural life, help build temples and churches for them. Before we came to Nepal, villagers need to receive permission from local authorities to use a small function or use a loud speaker. People cannot derive pleasure or happiness when they had to undergo scrutiny even to pray gods.
Moderator: Now we shall see the international dimension of the GNH. Let me begin with Khadka. But let me insert a point here. In his recent visit to Bhutan, a senior official of the World Bank said GNH might be another measuring rod for development like HDI and it could be expanded as Gross International Happiness. Do you think the principle will get world recognition through WB?
K. B. Khadka: WB deputy director visited Bhutan and could have observed a silent society; no violence, no rallies, no protests. He might have seen lines of people along the Thimphu highway to welcome him. That could have injected him Bhutan has perfect social harmony. It is not impossible that it would get world recognition at a time the same king and same ministers are ruling the country. We can do nothing against it. However, it would be imperative to accept the principle of social harmony from a country which fails to harmonize its internal disputes. Can an idea of ruler who failed to bring harmony in his country does good for international community?
Yet, human being does mistake. Father, as head of the family must admit his mistakes and commit not to repeat such mistakes. King must participate in all religious festivals; encourage people to use their own language to bring harmony. There was time in Bhutan where Nepali speaking students are restricted to next grade if they fail in Nepali exams. How good was that? The king must realize that ‘conflict born in Bhutan due to my interest to force other people to follow my religion and speak my language’. The international community must pressurize the Bhutanese king to maintain ethnic harmony and peace in the country before embarking on propagating the idea to world.
Moderator: I like to ask Mr Gurung. The debate of GNH and resettlement of Bhutanese refugees came together in world forums. On one side, US government is taking over half of the Bhutanese refugees, and on the other side the same country is in mission to popularize the concept of GNH. Do you find any links here?
Gopal Gurung: In 1990 people spoke for their rights. To suppress the voices, Bhutan government used all means. Government levied taxes and the same money was used to evict them.
I think, third country resettlement is a temporary solution of the crisis. For a permanent solution and maintaining stability and to bring the theory of GNH into reality, the only option is repatriate the refugees. All donations must be sincerely utilized for the welfare of the people.
Moderator: Mr Subba, can you trace the link of resettlement process and Bhutan’s interests to internationalize the idea of GNH through US society?
Pratap Subba: Happiness blossoms in motherland, not in a foreign land. Had the Bhutanese regime initiated to repatriate the refugees, the thought of GNH could become practical in Bhutanese context.
Moderator: One conclusion we have drawn today: GNH would get materialized well if Bhutanese refugees are repatriated and all Bhutanese nationals are entitled to liberty, freedom and equality.
Moderator: Our discussion ends here. I thank my guests K. B. Khadka, Gopal Gurung and Pratap Subba for their participation. Let me thank LWF for sponsoring Saranarthi Sarokar and our Jhapa correspondent Arjun Pradhan. Today’s episode of Saranarthi Sarokar, jointly produced by Pathivara FM and Bhutan News Service ends here.