Nepali Times
Here And There
Follow the money


A few interesting developments point towards medium term prospects for Nepal that are not predicted by any viable voice.

These are the decision, reported last week in this newspaper, of a major oil company to prospect for petroleum in the tarai, the utter lack of serious debate in the otherwise fractious government about water resources, and talk of trains between India and Tibet shooting through Nepal on their way north.

It brings to mind a key development in the unravelling of apartheid in South Africa. This wasn't the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, or the \'unbanning\' of the African National Congress by its sworn enemies in the racist National Party.

Rather, it was the burgeoning friendship between Mandela and Harry Oppenheimer, head of South Africa's most important corporation, Anglo American, which controlled De Beers, the diamond mining and marketing giant.

As a Jew, Oppenheimer understood oppression and he had been quietly funding anti-apartheid efforts for years, even while appearing in public as a pillar of South African capitalism and the most important economic player in the nation. He remained close to Mandela before and after he became South Africa's first freely elected president, and was instrumental in ensuring that the once-Marxist and anti-business ANC did little to disrupt South Africa's lucrative mining industry, once it came to power.

Could a version of this be going on in Nepal? Could international business be courting comrades and Kangresis alike in an effort to unleash the Himalayan tiger economy, while they earn themselves and their sharehoders and few rupees?

It's hard to tell. On the surface, Nepal has one of the world's most left-wing polities. Maoists, Emale, peasants parties, left fronts, and other assorted agitators are hugely influential forces in political life. They all talk a powerful anti-capitalist game. At the Maoist end of things, they follow up their words with actions. Even the Nepali Congress has leftist, egalitarian leanings that lead it to trade unionism and even membership in that old dinosaur, Socialist International.

Yet there appears to be an unspoken consensus among the parties in power that Nepal's water potential needs to be harnessed by private investment, and soon. Even the Maoists seem to be part of this, and there are more than a few people out there who think India's powerful thirst has much to do with New Delhi's enthusiasm for the peace process-any peace process-with or without mutually inclusive twin pillars of diplomatic mantras past.

The oil exploration in the tarai could be part of this too. Again, India is the most obvious customer for any hydrocarbons that lurk beneath the Nepali plains and I dare say Indian expertise in extraction, refining, shipping, pipelines, and marketing wouldn't go amiss either, given the disastrous record of the Nepal Oil Corporation.
Putative Lhasa-Lucknow train lines are a bit more far fetched. But still, one can see the attractions for politicians in large scale infrastructure development-both types of attraction, under and over the table.

Now nations and politicians should be free to choose their economic course and heaven knows Nepal could benefit from establishing a market economy for all its anti-capitalists to oppose. Right now, so nascent is the above ground private sector here, that comrades have to conjure up international conspiracies to give them their raison d'etre, especially since feudalism seems to be going down.

But it would be nice to have some openness and debate, perhaps beginning with decent media coverage, of all the options for Nepal's future economic growth. If leftists want a peoples' republic, let them explain how it finances itself in the global economy, how it creates jobs and prosperity. If business wants a hydro-powered capitalist dynamo, then what do the people get, and how is this guaranteed. Memo to media, a little more business journalism please, a little less \'he said, she said\' political coverage.

Let's start by identifying this region's version of Harry Oppenheimer and find out just who he's been talking to.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)