Unhappy countries of South AsiaThe commonality of unhappy countries is as clearly recognisable as that of the happy ones.
The opening line of Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina makes every unhappy family believe that they are unhappy in their own ways while all happy families must be alike. The power of literary flourish has made the idea of singularity so compelling that few dare to question its universality. The commonality of unhappy countries, however, is as clearly recognisable as that of the happy ones.
According to the World Happiness Index, Afghanistan was the most unhappy country in the world even before the unceremonious departure of the occupation forces and subsequent Taliban takeover. The sanctity of sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Afghanistan has once again been restored.
A separate homeland for Muslims of undivided India was the raisons d'être of Pakistan. Barbarism and brutality from both sides severely bruised the promise of partition. Security forces inevitably come to dominate government when vendetta and violence become the defining feature of a nation.
Among the triumvirate ("Allah, Army and America") that has controlled Pakistan since its founding, Allah is the "Oft-Forgiving and Most Merciful". America swaggers around the globe as its "indispensable nation". But with the general headquarters in Rawalpindi being self-declared guardians, Pakistan has remained wedded to the ideology of national security.
After the independence of Bangladesh, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the first civilian to hold the post of Martial Law Administrator (1971-73) of truncated Pakistan. Defeated and debased due to its excesses during the struggle for Bengali rights, the General Headquarters was on the back foot. Bhutto could have brought the military under civilian control with some effort. Rage and revenge turned him into an instrument of the defence establishment instead.
The Pakistan Army is in the eye of the storm for the first time as supporters of ousted premier Imran Khan chant the slogan of "Chowkidar chor hai" implying that the electoral mandate of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has been stolen. The charges against the military are sure to prove meaningless as long as Pakistanis remain obsessed with their collective insecurity. It seems that ordinary Pakistanis will remain content with just being ahead of India in something as innocuous as the happiness index.
The economic crisis in Sri Lanka is competing with the regime change in Pakistan for headlines in the international media that continues to be fully occupied with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, the excesses of the military junta in Myanmar have been pushed into the background. The degeneration of what was once the largest democracy in the world into an ethnocracy needs the attention of the world.
Sinhalese were identified as the "majority with a minority complex" way back in the 1980s. That has also been more or less the case with Bamar ethnonationals of Myanmar and the Khas-Arya supremacists of Nepal. Dormant in the Indian mainland since the killing of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, the proto-fascistic disease with political jingoism, cultural chauvinism, ethnonational xenophobia and religious extremism as its symptoms have begun to engulf the second most populous country of the world. If it's Sinhala Theravada in Sri Lanka, Bamar Theravada in Myanmar, Talibanism in Afghanistan and Islamism in Pakistan, ethnonational bigotry goes by the name of Hindutva in India where the old fringe is its new mainstream.
On almost all indices of wellbeing, India has been consistently sliding down into a pit of misery. On the Global Hunger Index, it fell from 55 in 2015 to 94 in 2020, which has since then gone down to 101 within a year with only 15 countries ranking lower in the list. With a score of 142, India is categorised as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.
From "partially free democracy" and "flawed democracy", India has fallen down to the level of being labelled as "electoral autocracy". Out of the 58 global indices, India has fallen on 54 counts. Little wonder, the Hindutva homeland was found to be the unhappiest country of South Asia.
The establishment of correlation, causation and coincidence between differing sets of data is a complicated affair. However, it boggles the mind to see that South Asian countries, with 33 percent of its people living in extreme poverty, continue to nurture collective narcissism of a toxic variety within their societies.
The prevalence of fatalism in South Asia has long been contested. Perhaps it's the absurdist resignation that makes most people accept manipulative interpretations of their trials and tribulations. When the people are hungry for simple explanations of their complex problems, populists come up with seemingly easy solutions with the confidence of the ignorant.
Born in a wealthy family and educated at Christ College of Oxford, founder of the Sinhalese nationalist party SWRD Bandaranaike perhaps proposed the "Sinhala Only" policy to mitigate the frustrations of an aspiring middleclass. Politicians seldom think of the consequences of their decisions beyond the next elections.
Academics could have thought about the next generation. Philosophers should have agonised about its impact upon the human condition. They didn't do any such thing, and the result is for all to see. With the help of radical monks, an ambitious military and global mercantilists, the ruling families of Sri Lanka have turned the once flourishing island into a banana republic.
Given its history, allegations of the role of the United States in the regime change in Pakistan can't be dismissed out of hand. But it appears almost certain that, in addition to the disapproval of military chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa and opposition from hardliner mullah Fazl-ur-Rehman, substantial resources of Premier-designate Shehbaz Sharif were mobilised to oust what had come to be seen as a "pro-Russia" regime.
Bangladesh has been getting surprisingly good press, largely due to its economic performance. But like most unhappy countries of South Asia, Dhaka continues to be in the tight grip of scions of democratic dynasties, a few long-distance nationalists, several natty NGOs and some offshore entrepreneurs. The military junta, ethnic militants and radical monks of Myanmar have managed to keep the resource-rich country mired in backwardness.
Self-styled gurus of several hues, a shrill and supine media in cahoots with monopolistic merchants and a regressive intelligentsia have managed to destroy the idea of India and turn it into a grand tamasha. The ethnonational consensus between the Nepali Congress and different shades of red in Brahminical communist parties has succeeded in emasculating federalism, undermining inclusion and impeding the passage of all progressive laws such as that of citizenship.
An easily discernible symptom of the epidemic of unhappiness in all of South Asia appears to be a mistaken belief in the exaggerated greatness of its dominant majority—the "collective narcissism". That's a problem of culture, which manifests itself in politics, flows into economics and then strengthens the value system all over again. Cultural correction, as Europe has discovered through various wars over centuries, is a work of generations.
Nepal has been recognised as the happiest country of South Asia, which says more about the misery of the region than the bliss of its second poorest nation after war-torn Afghanistan. May we frolic in the bliss of ignorance for to know is to suffer. On that positive note, Happy New Year BS 2079!