Nepali Times
State Of The State
Victims of circumstance


This Dasain began inauspiciously. First came the shocking news of the murder of Krishna Charan Shrestha, lawmaker from Siraha. Krishna Charan was a popular figure in his constituency, two of his followers gave up their own lives trying to defend him and then pursuing his killers. He belonged to a generation of politicians who interact directly with the people over the head of influential powerbrokers.

The second news was even more unsettling. A helicopter with eminent conservationists on board was reported missing in the Kanchenjunga region. Two days later, the worst fears of worried families and friends turned out to be true: the helicopter had crashed with no survivors. Professionals in the field say it will take about three decades to produce so many conservationists of that calibre again.

Though not a conservationist in the academic sense of the term, Harka Gurung too died for a cause close to his heart. As a development thinker, Gurung had an abiding interest in establishing mutually beneficial relationships between human beings and their habitat. He died returning from a ceremony handing nature protection to the people of that area.

On first meeting Harka, many found him blunt. He never attempted to even appear likable. Like most interdisciplinary scholars he had strong views about everything.

He relished making fun of those less informed but more dogmatic than he was. Irreverence and wit were his natural traits. Despite his lack of social skills he was a towering presence in the field of physical planning. You could agree or disagree with him on various issues, but in the area of regional planning, it was impossible to hold any view without referring to his ideas.

He is credited with creating initially four, then five, development regions in the country. King Birendra's personal interest didn't work for one simple reason: without a political structure to back them up, development regions were castles in the air, hung by a thin thread from the capital.

When Harka realised why his ideas weren't working, he moved on and proposed his second most significant contribution to planning: the concept of parallel south-north growth corridors to connect railheads in neighbouring India with processing and production centres of the Nepal tarai and Bhitri Madhesh.

Harka was dragged into controversy by the politics of demography. In the 1980s, he headed a commission asked to prepare a purist population plan for the tarai.

The report was as expected, and is supposed to have inspired the formation of the Sadbhawana Manch, which later became the Sadbhawana Party. Jaya Krishna Goit, the leader of splinter group of Maoists which claims to have killed Krishna Charan Shrestha, is in some ways the political progeny of backlash created by the report.

Post-1990 Harka Gurung perhaps realised that planning for development means little if the planned-for don't have a stake in its implementation. He didn't mention 'democracy' as often as many of his former colleagues from Panchayat days did, or display any of the zeal of a neo-convert. His tone and tenor for the last several years had become decidedly egalitarian.

Krishna Charan shouldn't have been in the kind of politics promoted and patronised by Shah kings. Perhaps he fell victim to the legacy of enmity nurtured by state-centric Panchayat-era politics.

Harka Gurung knew too much to be hopping around the Himalayas in a chartered helicopter in bad weather. Perhaps he found the end he subconsciously cherished.

Jaya Krishna Goit is too sharp not to know the consequences of his actions. Will he survive long enough to realise that politics of vendetta is a blind alley?

Rumour is rife that 'something will happen' during Dasain. For far too long, Nepalis have seen their worst fears coming true. May it be different this time despite the sad start to the festival.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)