Dreaming GNH with an empty stomach

Seems, not everything is glittery and calm in the land of GNH touted as one of the happiest countries in the world.

Latest reports published by the National Statistical Bureau paints a grim picture revealing rising numbers of Bhutanese who are constantly pushed below the yoke of poverty. The irony is, this is in stark contrast to the present government’s pledge to narrow the gap, the magic phrase upon which they played with the sentiments of the majority of voters in the 2018 general elections.

Fast forward to 2023, the final year of the present government’s five-year term, the income inequalities’ gap has widened. There is a deep chasm building between the have and the have-nots that the average citizen is constantly being pushed into the throes of having to live in penury.

Rising inflation and prices of essential commodities, the ever ballooning house rental costs, a weak and flailing economy, and unfriendly banking and fiscal policies are some of the scourges that has sadly driven many people to tighten their belts while frustration continues to vent up among the masses.   

Today, one would be considered extremely fortunate if one’s salary sees you and your family through the month. However, unfortunately, a vast majority of the average Bhutanese can’t seem achieve this milestone as incomes dry up mid-way through the month and most survive the remaining part of the month by purchasing household essentials on credit, often on a bloated price.

Hence, the vicious cycle of ‘borrowing and taking things on credit’ continues until the next pay check is delivered. The idea of saving for exigencies and other lean times then becomes a distant reality as the idea of happiness and contentment jumps through the window.

If not for His Majesty the King’s noble initiative to leave no one behind during the most testing times as the coronavirus pandemic era, almost half of Bhutan’s population would have been pushed to the throes of poverty. Royal initiatives like the Gyalsuung programme have also been very instrumental in helping uplift the plight and morale of our youths, while also cushioning the risks associated with our major unemployment fall.  

The present government, or for that matter any upcoming government that might come to power in the future, should not just sell the idea of narrowing the income inequality gap and alleviating poverty, but instead forge visions that can help realize this dream. When a country like China can help lift a billion people out of poverty, ours is just about a million or less. It is not as daunting as it seems.   

Dreaming Gross National Happiness in an empty stomach is indeed hard to digest.