The Beed's campaign for a sacrifice-free Dasain a couple of years back has now actually reached the streets. In a secular Nepal, the right to infringe on other people's beliefs and practices has become more important than the right to practise one's own culture and beliefs. The challenge is to strike a balance between animal rights and the right to worship, between the right to perform rituals in private and the right of reformists who do not want to see blood in the street.
Fareed Zakaria in his recent book, The Post-American World, describes a new world order of contemporary practices, such as corporate management, diplomacy and Islamic culture. The book paints a picture of a world that will leave religious dogmas and beliefs in place, but will also see the rise of small groups of fundamentalists. Perhaps, for secular Nepal, celebrating its first Dasain as a republic, now is the time to think about bringing in changes .
We should begin by considering whether a week-long holiday for a particular religion needs any amendment. Should the compulsory one-month salary bonus be just a festival bonus that people should have a choice to take at Christmas, Lhosar or Eid? Should the practice of bribing those in the corridors of power with bottles of booze be stopped, given that it has its roots in royal practices?
Dasain also brings about positive mood swings. Even families with few resources plunge into merry-making, knowing full well that debts will be piling up from all the expenses incurred. There is an atmosphere of conspicuous consumption and, for those who can afford it, a fair amount of wasteful expenditure. In an economy dominated by agriculture, dasain heralds the harvesting season?the time to convert the fruits of one's labour into money. For traders and the quasi-money lenders of rural Nepal, it is the time to 'profiteer' sufficiently to keep them afloat for the rest of the year.
This year, because of the delayed budget, dasain has given us the chance not only to review our personal finances, but also to look at the macro-economic issues. Furthermore, the nice September weather and the fact that dasain falls early this year, has meant that the festival coincides with the arrival of 'parachute consultants' trying to figure out the political and economic agenda of the new Maoist-led government in an erstwhile Hindu kingdom. The romanticised views of some donors for the current leadership may not be a healthy sign. It is important for the donors to test whether our rulers actually mean what they say in their wildly contradictory speeches.
Post-Dasain, the challenges are immense. The government's honeymoon period will be over. How does one increase agricultural productivity through economies of scale and at the same time promote reforms that will fragment land holdings? How does one decentralise the fiscal process when central resources have to be shared? How does one downsize an army that needs to integrate the PLA? How does one promote private enterprise while still trying to pour money down the public enterprise drain? How does one define a public-private enterprise? Will it still be a private enterprise forced to employ party cadres?
Let's wish ourselves luck, and all readers a sacrifice-free dasain.