Innovation is undoubtedly one of the key components of good governance. Unfortunately, any idea that defies the accepted norms is met with cynicism. The reaction to the decision of the Madhya Pradesh government to devise a Happiness Index was reflective of this. The din of naysayers drowned out the voices of those who attempted to view the decision from a different perspective. When in 2016, the Happiness Ministry was established by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, it was widely dismissed as an impractical idea in a country that is battling with multiple socio-economic evils.
Perhaps the best answer to this can be found in a quote by the French author Andre Gide. He said, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” In public policy, it is the audacity to experiment that matters more than the end result. In 1976, Bhutan first mooted the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of the country’s progress and development. More than four decades after the step, Bhutan’s approach is a topic that is seriously being discussed and debated all across the world. The stress on GNH which is an amalgamation of physical, social, spiritual and environmental well-being has paved the way for new sustainable models of development. Staying true to its aspirations, the country has enshrined environmental protection in its constitution and has pledged to keep 60 per cent of its landmass under forest cover.
Innovation has also been brought in education with the aim of holistic development. Currently, almost 100 per cent of children are enrolled in primary schools. Along with the traditional subjects are taught waste management, agricultural techniques and meditation to name a few. In a world where the thrust on textbook knowledge has robbed an entire generation of essential life skills, the replication of Bhutan’s approach to education might prove to be the panacea for all that is wrong with the system.
In the light of various positives, the idea of the Madhya Pradesh government to develop a Happiness Index is not fundamentally wrong. It is true that the concept of measuring happiness and the parameters involved are still extremely vague. It has to be noted that in the World Happiness Report for 2017 brought out by the United Nations, India stood at a depressing 122nd spot, down five points from the 2016 survey. When the report came out, it was vociferously argued that measures like social support during times of difficulty, freedom to make their life’s choices and sense of how corrupt their society is cannot be applied in the Indian context to quantify happiness.
The negation of western standards would also mean that India will have to devise its own system that is in tune with the country’s realities. Madhya Pardesh has taken the first step towards this goal. While introducing the concept chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had said, his state was “looking at spiritual happiness and happiness through knowledge in accordance with Indian philosophy.” The setting up of the Ministry of Happiness and the subsequent programs that the government has been conducting should be seen as meaningful steps in the pursuit of happiness.
A general consensus has emerged globally that without welfare economics development would lose its meaning. The proposed Happiness Index should be viewed as a tool that can be used to get a better understanding of the ground realities. When it comes to India, specific factors like women empowerment, sanitation, access to clean drinking water, timely legal aid and technological penetration should also be taken into account. IIT Kharagpur has already been tasked with quantifying happiness. Till the index is not developed and its practical application is not tested, the idea of happiness as a measure of development should be given a chance.