Nepali Times
"Dire straits"

Geographer and planner Pitambar Sharma is also a noted economist. In this Nepali Times interview, he says the Maoists targeting the economy is a mistake.

Nepali Times: How do you think 1 September's riots will affect the economy?
Pitambar Sharma:
It will have dire consequences. Major airlines were affected so tourism will slide further. The blasts in hotels will make matters worse. The other badly hit sector is our remittance economy. Fewer people will now opt to go to the Gulf and those who were already planning to go may change their minds. So, more and more people will go to India and we will be increasingly dependent on Indian economy. India seems to know this pretty well. The more dependency increases, the more India will be in a position to wrest concessions on water resources, trade and even security.

What do you make of the Maoists' strategy on the economy?
There has been a change. They appear much more confident now, not only in terms of international press coverage but also in defining political and economic strategy. To me, it seems like the point of departure and these are indications of things to come.

Indications of what?
I think it might indicate a change in military strategy. Perhaps they have gone on to a new strategy where they do not attack things directly militarily. You create a psychological environment and have a much more forceful impact on the economy. You take advantage of the terror that you have created in people's minds and of the government that does not know what to do. You also take advantage of the situation of Nepal vis-a-vis other countries which are supporting Nepal militarily. They are trying to test the reaction within Nepal and outside.

How about the impact on ordinary Nepalis?
The economic impact has been disastrous. The government has underestimated the impact on agriculture, especially in the hills. The manufacturing sector, which was not actually down, will now feel the impact. The tourism industry has of course gone down. Though there was some improvement in arrivals last year, this year signs are that it might not pick up. Military expenditure may increase to around five percent of GDP, and spending on health and education will go down. So things don't look good at all.

The Maoists claim that closing industries hurts the state and capitalists because general people are suppressed anyway.
I think that argument only looks at one side of the picture. You might be hurting the capitalists, but many people work for those very capitalists. The working class in the urban areas will suffer. That is something that the Maoists have not really cared about. If you look at the hills where they destroyed schools and hospitals, you can see that it is not the rich who are being affected, it is the poor. The Maoists make commitments they will not harm business, and then they go ahead and do exactly that. There is contradtiction and a crisis of confidence.

The business community has asked rebels not to mix politics and economy.
Politics has many dimensions. Security is one of them and that should always be guaranteed. It is only under the security guarantee that you can run industries and provide employment. Once that does not happen, politics and economy get mixed up. People who say that they can have tourism and sound a economy despite Maoist activities are just daydreaming.

So what do rebels gain by destroying the very thing they have been promising the people?
The Maoist began their journey with a political strategy to highlight the problems that the Nepali state never looked at before. That was the positive aspect despite all the human costs. But, as time went on, military thinking took prominence in their strategy and politicisation of the masses took the back seat. That is very tragic because if the rebels had really politicised the people, the government would have been forced to address the major problems of the Nepali state. By resorting to a military course, the Maoists have negated their own early achievements. They are on a suicidal path.

How much has geopolitics contributed?
The Maoists have answered the question the progressive leftists had always left unanswered in Nepal, particularly with reference to revolution. Nepal is between Indian and China and therefore there can be no hope for an internal rebellion. The Maoists are trying to prove that wrong. The Maoist rebellion is the first homegrown rebellion in Nepal though ideologically it has been motivated by factors outside Nepal. But it will impossible for the Maoists to get ahead because the Maoists can't capture state power politically or militarily and rule it for any length of time because of our geopolitical situation and the global political scenario.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)