What’s this, you might ask? The newly elected prime minister in Bhutan, the articulate, social-media-sophisticate and Harvard-educated Tshering Tobgay, has already declared that he doesn’t see it as his job to promote the Gross National Happiness thing to the rest of the world.
The recently exited last prime minister made a big show of the happiness discussion, appearing at the United Nations and other places to discuss the benefits of Gross National Happiness. (Which, by the way, was simply a term bandied in an offhanded remark by the then-Kingsome 40-odd years ago in response to a reporter’s question about his planned economic growth strategy.) He was roundly criticized by educated Bhutanese for doing so, while economic and social problems swirled and grew around him.
This seeming shift isn’t really a surprise. This new prime minister has long decried the shiny, happy thing (see the paperback edition of my book, actually, where we meet during his service as opposition leader) and realizes there are other deeper issues in Bhutan to be addressed.
Many intellectuals in and around Bhutan hate the “happiness” thing. (Less educated people there aren’t really aware of it; they’re too busy tending the land and surviving.) One reason some snipe at my 2011 book, Radio Shangri-La, is because they assume from the title that it’s all about celebrating Bhutan and tra-la-la happiness. (When in fact if they bothered to read it, they’d learn that it’s all about how media and globalization–and the promise of making piles of money–are making Bhutan unhappy. Which is why some other people dislike the book!)
Of course the irony is that media headlines (like book titles) reduce complex issues to slogans and soundbites–which is another theme I tackle.)
Tshering Tobgay is to Bhutan like Barack Obama was to the US back in 2008, a powerful and thoughtful steward of promise and change. It’s going to be exciting, these next five years, to see how he tackles issues like rising unemployment, alcoholism and corruption, among other problems that Bhutan sadly faces along with most of the rest of the world.
And maybe, just maybe, he’ll even address the refugee issue….