The World Bank Country Director Ken Ohashi's glowing endorsement of the government's decision to raise the prices of petroleum products has added fuel to our students' fury. As the alliance of youth agitators began drafting a protest note demanding an apology from the deacon of the donor community in Kathmandu, it emerged that the American Embassy, too, had stepped in a little too far. Washington apparently advised kangresis to pull out of the joint movement against the palace arguing that they would end up helping the comrades. Now the mainstream political leaders are as infuriated as their student followers are, but they can't afford to be seen seething in the same way.
Politicians of all persuasions have benefited from external propulsions. When American ambassador Ralph Frank criticised the virulence of corruption in Nepal two years ago in the presence of the then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, UML general secretary Madhab Kumar Nepal couldn't stop grinning until his cheeks twitched. A few months later, when Frank counselled opposition leaders to calm the streets and seek political change through courteous means, Nepal was outraged enough to organise a social boycott of Koirala. When the World Bank Vice-President for South Asia Mieko Nishimizu warned last year that Nepal may be soon imprisoned in a vicious circle of bad governance, Koirala and Nepal were delighted at the drubbing Sher Bahadur Deuba deserved as head of government. Now they are all in it together.
Because we were never colonised by external powers, Nepalis have a harder time understanding what we ought to protect. National liberation has always meant freedom from the state's imperial squeeze.
Revolutionaries have sharpened their vision in prison and in exile and start from the halo of heroism. When you get what you want, you're judged by what you do with it. Each political change has ended up producing a new power elite committed to preserving its turf. Our liberation struggle has acquired a perpetual motion.
The Nepali claim to a sacrosanct personality is based on some of the same pre-existing sentiments of ethnicity, language and religion that have galvanised anti-colonialists the world over. These attributes are also the greatest sources of our fissures. We might not have a clear idea of who we are: we do seem to know who we aren't. Our expectation of propriety from abroad has been influenced by our political proclivities, because that's what we're preoccupied with. How many other countries have spent half a century debating such issues as sovereignty, control of the army and constituent assembly and still don't know when its going to end? The bad news is that the carping from abroad is going to get nastier amid today's fusion of politics and economics.
Caught between two superpowers and two regional behemoths with opposing convictions, Nepal drew aid from all quarters, irrespective of ideology and politics. Our collective failure to take advantage of these opportunities has resulted in under-development and growing inequalities, but the blame game has been too convenient to give up. As our aid dependence has become more pressing, the political purposes of donors are becoming more pronounced. And so are those of the recipients in the political class. Director Ohashi's secretary might be in a better position to tell us how many senior politicians lobby with him each week for projects that would thrill constituents just in time for the elections.
True, donors have helped raise popular expectations for development. Don't expect them to take full responsibility for the concentration of prosperity in a few pockets. Expect demands for greater accountability on our side. Democracy has brought long suppressed aspirations into the open, sometimes in unpleasant forms. It's supposed to address them, too. Since it hasn't in most developing countries, the distinction between democracy and liberty is growing sharper.
Aid was never purely altruistic. In the post-9/11 world, it's going to come with more political strings attached. We may still call it neo-colonialism. From the donor's perspective, it's an investment in security. The doctrine of pre-emption places little value on the sanctity of national sovereignty. The recipient's performance will be measured in terms of good governance, investment in people, and economic development apart from regular multiparty elections and a free press. We better thicken our skin.