By Saurav Raj Pant and Rafael (Rebati Ram) Poudel:
The game-plan of Nepal’s former monarchy made the nation more Kathmandu-centric after the 1990s. This despite having an ideology that should have made her more diverse.
At that time, King Birendra wasn’t the only significant person in the Naryanhiti Palace – there was the queen, the prince, the princess, the mistress, their nobles and the royalty. Mockingly, Shah decided to accept ‘constitutional monarchy‘ – but they indirectly sabotaged the mechanism of the decentralisation process.
As a result, Nepal’s ‘Kathmandu’ became more economically and politically centralised than in the past. This was the starting chapter of Nepal’s political instability that deliberately led the country into a bloody civil war, the election of a constituent assembly and the adoption of federalism.
Nepal’s backwardness is purely ideological. After the 1950s, in Kathmandu’s political lab, there were series of experiments. The conservative, the progressive and the revolutionary forces played a game of tug-of-war against each other. The result was disastrous.
The conservative forces blocked globalisation and disconnected Nepal from the entire world. Boycotting Indian influence and trying to sell ‘watermelons’ to China during Nehru’s time wasn’t a part of King Mahendra’s doctrines. Rather, it had much to do with Nepal’s faulty foreign policy.
At that time, he forgot the contrasting status of Nepal and India in the global sphere. India had already been contributing to the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), while Nepal wasn’t even part of the global economic game. Even though Nepal is situated in a very volatile geopolitical situation, it has always failed to celebrate the two giants, India and China.
Initially, Nepal’s royal palace was ineffective in handling foreign diplomacy – and later, the country’s party politics. The cadres were so lacking that they were not even in a position to have basic diplomatic conversations. The progressive forces had loopholes in organising and managing their parties. Gaining the support of the elites became their only characteristic – and eventually, they became so power-oriented that they invented a new form of plutocracy in Nepal.
On the other hand, the revolutionary forces consisted of people from marginalised communities. They were agenda-oriented but chose to ignore the fact that Nepal could not stay blind to the global development patterns. Even now, revolutionary forces fail to understand ‘agenda’ cannot be the baseline of Nepal’s efforts to have a cutting-edge transformation. Rather, economic revolution is the way forward for Nepal.
After monarchy took over in the 1960s, development became something akin to a food garnish only to provide flavour for the royalty. After all, clinching power and clinging on to it was the only way they could prolong their ‘lifelines’.
The public was educated through the Radio Nepal briefings. The listeners used to picture Nepalese society as one that lacked entrepreneurial spirit. The entire motto of life was to plough the land and get crop harvests. This essentially allowed the monarchy to sap innovation and creativity from Nepalese society – so that they could continue their exploitation and maintain their political stronghold.
Nepal’s youth also need to understand that during ‘panchayat time‘, Nepal was comparatively closer to China than India, even though only the Tatopani border was operational between Nepal and China (till 2012). Why then did the monarchy not open the other borders to China? The simple answer is that China was very suspicious regarding the Tibetan movement in Nepal, which has always been a big concern for China.
Maintaining equal and equidistant relations with India and China is practically impossible – at least in the current situation. After all, how can 1000 kilometres of open border with India compare with the naturally-blocked borders with China?
It is claimed that habitation in Kathmandu Valley stretches way back to 300 BC. Our oldness and historical unity are our unique features. However, many of us are also unaware of how the economic magnet has moved from the West to the East and back to the West.
As a result, we are seriously lacking when it comes to taking advantage of the economic growth made by India and China. A strong knowledge of Nepal’s history and international relations among the youth may help wipe out this issue.
After the 1990s, Nepal’s mismanagement reached a new height. Plutocracy became the new normal among our political circles. Health and education were seriously commercialised. Government and private schools started taking the services of two types of work forces (metaphorically speaking, that is) – English speakers and non-English speakers.
As a result, Nepal’s ‘fortune’ comes mainly from the West, the Gulf and India. ‘Nationalism’ comes in daily – in coffins and in the form of remittances. In spite of all the bloodshed, sweat, labour exploitation and abuse of workers abroad, Nepal seems to have failed to manage its production sector.
The political circle in Nepal have made a flawed democracy. Furthermore, the Nepalese themselves have accepted and institutionalised the phenomena of election delays. The local elections, party elections and organisational elections have all been infected by it. Neo-feudal attitudes have become highly influential, whereby the person(s) who is/are close to their leaders are likely to reap the maximum benefits.
A fear that cripples me concerns what will happen if the Nepalese don’t change their ways and art of living. In such a case, it is possible that Nepal will degrade from within. There is also a high probability of hard-line foreign intervention in the country, which is a very real threat indeed. If Nepal does not make itself compatible with the changing global socio-economic and political environments, it will have a serious existential crisis.
However, Nepal is still fortunate to have some who are sensible and can adapt to the changes around.
The post-1991 generation needs to understand our nation may fail because of our uncompromising attachment to our ideologies, poor foreign policy and diplomacy.
There are also other factors causing Nepal’s backwardness. For instance, fuelling anti/pro-Indian or anti/pro-Chinese sentiments in school children is a form of hypocrisy demonstrated by our leaders. On one hand, the leaders are asking for support in the development of Nepal, with regard to India and China – and on the other, they are brainwashing the minds of the youth for their own political interests.
The extremes of ‘not taking the side of any country’ or ‘becoming an ally of a country’ or ‘participating in global wars’ shows that the country has failed to build a strong consensus within, between and across political parties and the public. This is the age of globalisation and free market – and without aligning to a powerhouse, Nepal’s development is almost impossible.
Gulf countries and South Korea can be taken as examples. For generating foreign direct investments (FDI) in Nepal, it cannot afford to leave negative impressions on other nations. Till now, however, Nepal has failed to advertise its market – and more importantly, it has also failed to ‘play’ and compete with its two vibrant neighbours (India and China) for FDI.
Here, the government changes so frequently that it has almost become institutionalised. The politicians are ‘hijacking’ the essence and freshness of our democracy. And the best way to stop such nuisance is to become a watch dog and hold them accountable.
Who is going to be the watchdog(s)? The post-1991 youth should take lead on this issue, especially in this period of ’emergency’. This time, however, they should adopt a purely agenda-based approach, which is critical of others and their own selves.
Power has finally shifted from the 240-year-old monarchy to the masses. In this still-continuing transition, other parties are bound to take advantage of it. The post-1991 generation is aware of this, but is not in a position to influence this narrative. With a clear indication that earlier experiments have failed to help the nation and its citizens prosper, a meaningful role for the youth is sorely needed.
The authors are freelance development consultants based in Nepal.
Image used for representative sources only.