Nepali Times
Momentous month

It has been a month, yet the implications of these past weeks are just beginning to sink in. Who would have said in early April that a restored parliament would be giving itself the power to decide who can be the future king of Nepal?

Who could have imagined that the cabinet could with the stroke of a pen erase 'His Majesty' from the official name of the government and take out 'Royal' from the army? And these are not just cosmetic changes, they represent a fundamental shift in the status quo with symbolic and actual transfer of power. Elsewhere in the world, a similar changing of the guard in the national army would be accompanied by wholesale slaughter or state collapse.

Even in Nepal, these changes could have happened through a bloody revolution, as the Maoists have always wanted. That this transformation took place through a relatively non-violent uprising is further proof of the maturity and dignity with which the Nepali people and their political leaders have carried themselves. The past month has proved that a non-violent political process has greater legitimacy and is always more cost-effective.

The challenge now is to convert this accomplishment into socio-economic progress. We have to take the country back to 1996 when grassroots democracy was empowering local people to bring health, education and livelihoods to their constituents. Parliament can't afford to be so bogged down with reprisal and retribution to kickstart development. Unless people see a measurable improvement in their living standards soon, the joy of freedom will once more turn to despair.

In remote Humla, people have been waiting for decades for Kathmandu to listen to their needs (see p 8-9). Mugu, Bajura, Bajhang and Doti are in the grip of a severe drought-induced food shortage. Across the tarai, farmers need help with irrigation and agriculture inputs. These things can't wait and the quickest way to address them is to urgently fill the vacuum at the VDC and DDC level. Let's see a government that behaves like a government and exert its presence in areas from which it has pulled back in the past ten years.

Reconstruction has become a buzzword but we didn't have that much infrastructure to be destroyed to begin with. The telecom towers, VDC buildings and bridges blown up by the Maoists are already being rebuilt. Instead of reconstruction we have to lay new foundations for far-reaching progress. Start with linking the 15 districts that still don't have roads with 700 km of new highways, increasing power generation by 700 megawatts to meet growth in demand, attracting investments to create the 500,000 new jobs that Nepalis need so they don't have to migrate to work.

There is a lot that needs to be done: Nepal is the most deprived country in the world's most deprived region. Even while the political issues are being resolved, there is no reason to be folding our hands and twiddling our thumbs. The political process is just a tool to raise the people's living standards. We won't get an opportunity like this to set things right.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)