One of the chief aims of modern governments – at least in theory – is to make the citizens happy. Therefore, besides economic growth, per capita income, the standard of living, etc., there is another important indicator of the quality of governance, namely, the overall happiness of the people.
The wealthiest country in the world or one whose rate of economic growth and per capita income are the highest may not necessarily also be the abode of the happiest people in the world. It is not to say that wealth does not make people happy. It certainly does and is one of the most important elements contributing to happiness. However, it is our everyday experience that many people with meagre wealth and little creature comforts are quite happy in life. The opposite is also not untrue.
It is not my intention to philosophize upon how great it is to be poor or deprived. The point is that all the wealth in the world and all possible comforts of modern life may not bring peace of mind and, therefore, happiness.
If one is not poor but is constantly disturbed or distracted by unnecessary irritants, one can hardly remain happy. On the other hand, if a country is not among the richest but has, through good governance, made it easy for its citizens to lead their lives without additional hassles, its people may lack in some of the creature comforts but would be a happier lot.
Sadly, the Government at the centre as well as the state governments run by the Bharatiya Janata Party seem to have a peculiar tendency. I seriously think that they take a kind of morbid pleasure in keeping the citizens in a state of continuous flux bordering on uncertainty.
The ill-conceived demonetization, tacit approval of vigilante groups enforcing the ban on cow slaughter, hasty implementation of GST, the introduction of the National Register of Citizenship and the Citizenship Amendment Act, bamboozling the farm laws through the Parliament (later repealed after the avoidable loss of life), clamouring on so-called “love jihad”, imposition of a nationwide curfew without any notice to fight COVID 19 pandemic – all these caused great inconvenience and distress to the people, without any tangible common good.
Even in the simple matter of filing an income tax return, the taxpayers had a tough time negotiating a faulty website.
To add to the people’s anxiety, already reeling under tremendous stress due to the pandemic, their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression has come under threat from the government. It is openly trying to regulate the contents of various social media platforms and control the digital news media.
This government also has a highly demonstrable and uncanny knack to create controversies where none exists. There are several examples of such actions or proposed actions that keep everyone on the tenterhook. Let me give a few examples.
No government can allow its retired officials to publish, post-retirement, sensitive information that they might have gained knowledge of while on their jobs. To ensure that they do not do so to the detriment of the nation’s interest there exists the Official Secrets Act, which every public servant has to adhere to till the last breath. There has been no report that this Act lacks enough ‘teeth’. Even so, if the government thinks it does, it can easily bring suitable amendments to it to make it more effective.
Instead, the government felt it necessary to bring in another regulation specifically for those who retire from defence or police establishments whereby they would need permission from the departmental bosses before they could publish a book after retirement if they are writing about their “domain”, failing which their pensionary benefits could be forfeited. Most retired officers write about their “domain” only. What else would they write about – whether drinking cow urine cures rabis? Even under the Emergency, the then Government of India did not take such a measure. Why it has become necessary now, is anybody’s guess.
As it is, truth is at a premium in this country. The new regulation will ensure that only the official version of important events is available to posterity. It seems that’s exactly what the government wants. The fear is that some retired officials might spill the beans after retirement and well-concealed skeletons would tumble out of the government’s cupboard. To ensure that the truth never comes out it wants to put an airtight lid on the can of worms. So, in future, our history will become His Story, rather than a truthful chronicle of events.
Yet another example of unnecessary meddling by the Central Government is the proposed measures for the development of tourism in the Lakshadweep group of islands.
The poor, but more or less happy and contented inhabitants of these idyllic islands were living in their ancestral place quite peacefully. To protect their distinct culture and to safeguard the fragile ecology of the islands as well as to maintain the fine balance between development and preservation of local tradition, tourism was kept restricted to some designated islands only.
However, the Lieutenant Governor of this union territory has initiated measures to change all that. He would like to “develop” these islands in line with the tourist resorts of the Maldives. This means that ecologically sensitive swathes of the coastline will be sold or leased out to private developers to build ‘resorts’, disregarding its effect on the ecology of the islands and habitats of its people.
To that end, various criminal and civil laws are either being amended or enacted quietly when people are focussed on the ongoing pandemic. The aim appears to be to forestall any potential protest by the locals not only against the imminent destruction of their culture but against the possible loss of their homes and means of livelihood as well. That most inhabitants of the islands are Muslims is an added disadvantage for these hapless people.
People who care about protecting the ecology of the islands and preserving the culture of its people have denounced these moves. The government, however, is unfazed and has called these protests and agitations premature, without clarifying its stand.
A burnt child dreads the fire, especially when there have been several instances of getting burnt. We have seen so many cases where, after allaying people’s apprehensions in soothing words, the government simply pushed its agenda through, and there was no easy remedy left to the citizens.
By doing all this the government has kept the people – whatever maybe their calling in life – in constant fear and anxiety of facing ‘something new’ with the potential to adversely affect their lives, even their very existence in certain cases. This raises a doubt in one’s mind that perhaps ‘distract and rule’ is another mantra of this government along with the divide and rule policy learnt from the colonial masters.
Under the circumstances, citizens can hardly be happy, and it is no wonder that we rank 139th among 149 countries in the UN World Happiness Report 2021. That is far more eloquent than any chest-thumping on how well our governments treat the people. *
- This was published in The Citizen in September 2021. It has been thoroughly edited.