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Murder-accused Minister for Happiness in India banks on judges’ clemency

S. N. M. Abdi

Published: Updated:

A politician in India, officially designated as Minister for Happiness, is not a happy man at all. He is at the mercy of the High Court which will soon decide whether the minister should be arrested and tried for ordering the killing of a political rival.

Lal Singh Arya, 53, is an elected lawmaker and cabinet minister in Madhya Pradesh (MP) where the Hindu right wing Bharatiya Janata Party is in power for a third successive term. Arya handles five other ministries besides the Ministry of Happiness and is known for his proximity to MP’s all powerful Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Last year Chouhan created a separate ministry to spread happiness in the country’s second-largest state in terms of area and put his trusted lieutenant Arya in charge. The new ministry’s thrust areas are Yoga, meditation and state-funded religious pilgrimages for the elderly. The ministry has plans to even “rope in psychologists to counsel people on how to be always happy”.

MP, the only Indian state to have a full-fledged Ministry for Happiness, is following in the footsteps of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan known for its dogged pursuit of Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or Gross National Income (GNI) for measuring the success of the government.

Arya – the man officially tasked with keeping everyone happy - was riding high until last month when he was suddenly declared a wanted man after a district court issued a no-bail warrant against him for the cold-blooded murder of a Congress Party leader way back in 2009. The minister vanished from the state secretariat amid reports of a statewide hunt for the absconding Arya.

There were demands for Arya resignation or dismissal. But he eventually got a reprieve from the Madhya Pradesh High Court which stayed the arrest warrant and agreed to hear Arya’s final appeal before deciding whether he should be arrested or not.

Rasheed Kidwai, Associate Editor of the Telegraph newspaper and author of books on Sonia Gandhi and the Congress Party, says that the Arya case typifies the colorful and criminal aspects of politics in India’s heartland.

Talking to Al Arabiya, Kidwai said: “There is something very alluring about a Ministry for Happiness although in reality it’s just a ploy to fool the common man instead of providing roti (food), kapda (clothes), makan (house), sadak (road), asptal (hospital) or bijli (electricity). And the plot thickens when the minister tasked with keeping citizens happy is in the dock for murder. Violence, including killings, is endemic in politics but the mix of a Happiness Minister wanted for murder desperately knocking at the High Court’s doors for justice does make a very exotic story which attracts eyeballs across the world.”