Nepali Times Asian Paints
Here And There
Foreign intervention


Thumbing through some dog-eared but still rather wonderful back issues of the older version of Himal magazine, I found yet more evidence that history repeats itself. One of the abiding themes of that excellent and late-lamented magazine was the impact of foreign intervention in Nepal.

Now by that I don't mean the conspiracy theorists' fears of strangers with dark bandannas sneaking around by night and fomenting trouble. I refer to the playground that this country is for people like me, our own little Shangri La theme park of mysticism, trekking and polite, happy people.

Anyway, my point is this: for a long time now the enlightened in Nepal have been concerned about the high degree of influence from outside sources, input that is unaccountable and not always in the best interests of the Nepali people. As judged by those people themselves, not by the likes of me. Aid and development spending are the most obvious examples. Much has been written about the subject, in this space and elsewhere, and will continue to be column fodder because there never is a satisfactory response from that community to any criticism or comment that I venture.

Lo and behold, what do I find in Himal Vol 3 No 3 from September of 1990 but a letter that could have been sent just yesterday to the Nepali Times in response to yet another uppity piece from Lak, Lal, Pitamber Sharma, Seira Tamang, Devendra Raj Pandey, Kanak Mani Dixit and others. (That's one reason I keep questioning the development community-I'm in excellent company when I do so.) Anyway, this particular letter was from one G Campbell-Reynolds responding to a piece by one of our leading thinkers on development, Dipak Giyawali.

Minister Giyawali, as he is now, was in those days defending the gains of the People's Movement and writing the epitaph for feudalism. We can argue in future whether he may have been a little premature, given current events. But in his 1990 article, he wrote that development agencies and diplomats have a great deal to answer for the 30 years of Panchayat stagnation that came before the Jana Andolan. This is one point among many, and he is equally unsparing to just about every force in Nepali society that had a stake in the process of change.

But what do we hear from Campbell-Reynolds? Why, surprise, surprise: patronising gobbledy-gook, dressed up as a dressing down to Gyawali who is "taking a shot at the expatriate community because they are an easy target". Trust us, is the tone of the letter, we support your quaint little democracy movement because "Nepal is now ready for it". There's more of the same in issue after issue. Cogent and valid criticisms met with rancour and resentment. It's what I almost see in the letters responding to my own forays into-gasp-questioning the antics of our "experts. Not honest debate or information served up to counter my mistaken notions, but a broadside of vitriol, a tone of "how dare you".

And do you know what I'm beginning to feel, with dread, is the truth? I'm wondering about that Shangri La business. Yes, it's an old chestnut, nothing new under the sun, and all that. Again, I turn to the pages of the old Himal. Vol 3 No 1 from January 1990 dedicates a whole issue to Shangri La. In the spirit of journalism and fairness, it looks at both sides of the sacred valley business, and lets the reader draw a conclusion. But I know how the editors of the magazine feel about such things because I feel the same. We detest the notion.

I don't think there's another country on the planet where foreign residents, long-term or contractual, whether here to do business, development or anthropology, whether they follow Buddha or Mammon, feel so proprietorial about their personal Shangri La, the place they mistake for Nepal. Nor do they actually like the real Nepal very much. I read it in recent history brought alive through Himal, I hear it in various watering holes and party venues, I know it in my heart of hearts.

Now let's try to have a debate about this. Or, if you choose, you can simply accuse me of ranting. You'd be repeating history, if that's any consolation.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)