China and India dominate all conversation about the state of the world economy in the global press. Together, they carry 40 percent of the world?s population.
They produce 25 percent of the global output. Measured in terms of what currencies actually buy, China has the world?s second largest economy; India, the fourth largest. China alone has emerged as the world?s local factory, producing just about everything in high volumes and at low prices. Meanwhile, urban India has become a sought-after global hub for IT and, increasingly, other sophisticated services. Little wonder, every forward-looking country today wants to be literally next to these two giants.
That is why, given Nepal?s location, you?d think that we?d be busy transforming our geographic luck into competitive advantage. But a look at the papers tells us otherwise. Beleaguered by the internal wars of aged politicians who seem to be around forever representing yesterday?s dreams, we haven?t really got our act together. Indeed, when it comes to strategically linking our economy up with those of our neighbours to create trade and job opportunities for young Nepalis, all we can do is lapse into collective hand-wringing.
One reason is that the mindset of Nepal?s political class is anti-business. By temperament and background, the members of this class don?t understand the value that businessmen and entrepreneurs add. That?s not surprising, considering that many of our netas came of age at a time when the only viewpoint was that the state should provide everything for its citizens. As chest-thumping socialists, they still believe that a government?s role is to be a pervasively controlling influence in all Nepalis? lives. Never mind that the netas send their own children for higher studies and jobs in countries which favour fewer government interventions.
Moreover, few of our politicians have managed competitive small businesses. Fewer still have paid the bills with money they?ve earned through their own honest sweat. This gap in exposure shows up in the way they view the business community?not as creators of jobs and the middle class, but as a constituency to be milked for bribes in exchange for discretionary favours. The result is, our netas have developed neither the imagination required to make every adult Nepali a gainfully employed worker, nor the humility to understand how business policies which anchor our economy to those of our neighbours uplift us all.
Another reason the China-India talk does not amount to much is that there is a shortage of Nepalis who can credibly push as a priority the agenda of business, trade, and jobs. Through their own actions, the present crop of old business leaders has become a liability. The younger ones are busy?pushing Maoists out of factories or running away to safety. Other competent Nepalis are either slaving away for investment or consulting firms in the west, or existing as well-compensated bureaucrats at international bikas organisations, aware that every passing year weakens their ties to Nepal. And our civil society, filled as it is with NGO careerists and well-to-do retired professionals, has its calendar full of activities that are important, but too abstract to mean much to most Nepalis beyond Thankot who are in need of food, shelter, and jobs.
So, who?s to start a strategic China-India conversation in Nepal that goes beyond the ?cementing the age-old ties routine? Hard to say, except that the opportunity is ripe for us to act now. Unless we want to be left so far behind, that we later come to depend on the charity of these two neighbours.