Nepali Times
State Of The State
Gross national happiness in Pokhara


POKHARA-Here we are in the place with the highest annual rainfall in Nepal, and yet the wet streets are slick and rainwashed. In Kathmandu they are muddy and potholed.

The fact that Pokhara can be spic and span proves that the reason Kathmandu is so scruffy is because it wallows in its own filthy abundance. In the evening, a magical monsoon puts Lakeside into an upbeat mood as a pink sun peeps out of the edge of a cloud. Even the rainy season is photogenic in Pokhara.

Conversations in Kathmandu are laden with scepticism and cynicism. Here, the air is fresher and residents optimistic. They sit around in Chiple Dhunga where the old pipal tree used to be to discuss people power. The public sphere is vibrant and forward-looking.

At the Pokhara Chamber of Commerce and Industry the mood is upbeat. Members of the Young Entrepreneurs Society (YES!) who have been to the world's best universities and chosen not to live in the capital have organised the program. The room is full of enthusiastic participants.

Everybody believes something needs to be done without delay. Nobody is sure who needs to do what and when. In that sense, the title of the dialogue ('What Next?') turns out to be apt. But participants are reassured that their optimism isn't completely unfounded.

Parliament's political proclamations were radical but it has been silent on an economic program. Dr Mahat's White Paper deplores the waywardness of the royal past and lists the gory details of the nation's financial woes. But instead of coming up with ideas, the good doc falls back on a knee-jerk call for budgetary support which we suppose his boss is going to get in New Delhi this week.

The government is desperately waiting for the economic package from New Delhi to bail the country out. But a sovereign parliament has yet to come up with a strategy to guide the government's budget making exercise. Surely a body bold enough to declare the country secular and untouchability-free is competent enough to announce at least short-term measures to address the economic crisis?

On the other side of the negotiating table, the Maoists have even fewer ideas. Their jargon and slogans are shamelessly populist. In Marxist discourse, economics is politics and vice versa. Now that the rebels have committed themselves to a peaceful transition does it imply that they have also given up their rigid stance on class struggle to accept socially responsible market competition? Economic policies of Prachanda Path are badly in need of further clarification from their proponents.

A national consensus has emerged on the inevitability of a constituent assembly to frame a fresh compact of the people. The unanimity is based upon the assumption that the process and product of constitution-making will forge new unity among the people free of regional, ethnic, cultural and gender biases that pervaded all our past endeavours.

But social and political rights in the absence of economic justice is often the precursor to further upheaval. Equality in politics and equity in economics are two sides of the same coin. For stability, one can't do without the other.

We have begun to address the political inequality between the power elite and the people, and presumably a future constituent assembly will wrap up that issue. But who is going to work on economic inequality between Nepal's haves and have-nots?

Nepal is the most unequal country in the world's most unequal region. Bangladesh's Gini Coefficient is 0.34, India is at 0.42-Nepal is a stark 0.53. Four-fifth of Nepalis are subsistence farmers.

Unlike the profiteers of the Birganj-Simra industrial belt, Pokhara's young entrepreneurs are aware that they need to do much more to gain the trust and respect of society.

If eggs laid by the golden goose of economic growth are not shared equitably, those left out will be so hungry they will eat the goose itself.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)