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Bhutan PM won't sell Gross National Happiness abroad (Interview)

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Bhutan's new Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay says it is not his government's job to promote the country's famed "gross national happiness" (GNH) index abroad, departing from his predecessor's policy of aggressive cultural diplomacy.

Togbay, who won the Himalayan nation's second-ever general election held July 13, told IANS that the sole responsibility of his People's Democratic Party is "to serve the people (of Bhutan)".

Tobgay, a former opposition leader, understands that GNH has the potential to help the nation of fewer than 750,000 people to carve out its place in the world.

But he does not think the government should spend time and resources to sell it abroad.

Bhutan's fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, came up with the idea of GNH in 1972, which later became the Buddhist nation's unique way of measuring national progress in terms of the well-being and happiness of its people instead of using gross domestic product (GDP) as the indicator.

GNH "is a new paradigm… its time has arrived," Tobgay told IANS late last month.

"It's a philosophy that is consistent with all religions… all religions promote balance and holistic development."

Asked if GNH is essentially a Buddhist way of understanding economics, Tobgay repeated: "GNH is relevant to all religions."

But he added: "And since we are largely Buddhist, everything we do has a basis in Buddhism, so in that respect you can say GNH has its roots in Buddhism."

However, Tobgay said, "I believe it's not the job of the government to do that (exporting GNH). What we know of it we'll seek to aggressively implement (for domestic purposes only)."

During his tenure, former prime minister Jigmi Y. Thinley, the country's first democratically elected leader, travelled around the world to place happiness at the heart of the global economic agenda.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a "happiness resolution", noting that GDP "does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people in a country" and empowering Bhutan to speak to member states about the need for happiness to be a key component of their economies.

On April 2 last year, Thinley spoke about GNH at a high-level conference at the UN.

However, Thinley's defeat in the July election is being attributed partly to his aggressive international public relations campaign to promote GNH at the expense of domestic needs.

Tobgay, a Royalist to the core, believes it is the nation's king who should lead efforts to popularise GNH around the world and not the elected head of the government.

The king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, is highly revered by the people of Bhutan, a constitutional monarchy.

"We have experts, the foremost of whom is our king," Tobgay said. "I would like for real experts to take centre-stage, leading the discourse at home and abroad. I think the Bhutanese people will be thrilled if His Majesty champions the cause."

(Vishal Arora can be contacted at vishalarora_in@hotmail.com)

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