Mumbai: In George Orwell’s 1984, the ministries of love, peace, plenty and truth are obviously misnomers.
They serve the exact opposite of the purposes they have been set up for. This does not hold true of the department of happiness that the Madhya Pradesh government set up exactly one year back. It does spread happiness. It is just that the season of unhappiness for the farmers in Madhya Pradesh has got longer.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who holds the portfolio of happiness ministry, takes pride in calling his state a sort of utopia, a khushhaal Pradesh (happy state) and kisan hiteshi (farmer friendly). But in June, when the farm unrest in Madhya Pradesh exploded, the government-driven pursuit of happiness in India’s heartland state sounded almost Orwellian in its inherent contradiction.
Last month, Chouhan tweeted that more than 33,000 Anandaks (happiness seekers and volunteers) had registered so far under the department of happiness’s programme to spread happiness. The numbers and data on the website of Rajya Anand Sansthan (state happiness institute) clearly say the department of happiness has been a roaring success in one year.
Apart from 333,532 happiness volunteers who have registered on the website, there are 135 “Anand Clubs" across the state, of which 76 have completed the process of registration. These clubs organize activities and initiatives that spread happiness. For instance, there is “Anand Roti Bank Club" in Indore which collects food from well-to-do people in the society and distributes it among the needy. There is another in Chhatarpur which makes blood available for those patients in government hospitals who cannot source it from blood banks. “It is an effort to create happiness in all forms," said IAS officer and chief executive of the Sansthan, Manohar Dubey, on the phone.
In May, the Madhya Pradesh government had signed an MoU, or a memorandum of understanding, with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur to develop a state happiness index. It is difficult to measure happiness that this ministry has spread but the idea has caught up with other states. Andhra Pradesh has also set up a happiness index and Maharashtra is planning to have a similar department of happiness.
It is a mere coincidence that all these three states, and several others in India, have deep-rooted farm crises, the magnitude of which can be measured by the index of farm suicides.
Kedar Sirohi, the young farm activist in Madhya Pradesh and one of the founders of Aam Kisan Union that has been at the forefront in raising farmers’ issues, says the only people who would be happy in Madhya Pradesh are “politicians and bureaucrats". “Legislators are happy because their salaries were increased one and half year back. Bureaucrats are happy because the seventh pay commission is being implemented. Farmers are among the unhappy lot. Their unhappiness is out there in the open over indebtedness, crop failure, lack of remunerative prices and uninterrupted supply of electricity. But Chouhan has no index to measure that," Sirohi said in an interview. He said it would have been better if the Madhya Pradesh government had set up a “ministry of sorrow" that would at least have acknowledged that the problem existed.
Asked if the State Happiness Institute had initiated some activities that reached out to farmers or included them in happiness activities, CEO Dubey said the department had a general approach at this stage. “We are not reaching out to any specific section of population. Of course, farmers are part of the same society and in the long run, we will definitely have something specific for them. All sorts of people including farmers are getting involved in the activities and some of our volunteers and Anand Club members would be farmers. But this is only a start and we have a long way to go," Dubey said.
Sirohi says, like farmers’ welfare, even happiness was a statistic for Madhya Pradesh government. “Happiness exists on paper like the numbers about record-high agriculture growth. On the ground, the farmers are preparing for another round of agitation from 9 August. We will start with Jail Bharo Andolan (courting arrests) and 62 farmers’ organizations will take part in it," Sirohi said.