Nepali Times
Political capital


There is a spot in one corner of my rice field that worries me a lot. Last year some fertiliser spilled there and was ploughed in by mistake. This spot became so fertile that the rice and next season's wheat did not yield anything at all-just lots of straw that was all bent over and half-rotten.

This plot would have been ideal for fodder grass, not for grain crops. Somewhat like the taxes the government harvests from businessmen. The crop on this spot in my field has parallels to the leaders we send to govern in Kathmandu.

Kathmandu Valley was and is too rich to raise visionary leaders. Ask any farmer: a fat animal is a sterile one, good only for the butcher. And so it is with soil. Very fertile land is better for fodder or salad crops-very little seed production there. The plant expends too much on the vegetative greens and not enough on forming healthy seeds for the future survival of the species. And so it has been with our leaders. They spend all the nourishment on themselves, leaving nothing for the rest of the country, or for the next generation.

If only King Prithibi Narayan Shah had not been so infatuated with this emerald valley. If only he had not moved his capital to Kathmandu. On the day Kathmandu fell to the invading king of Gorkha, the people and the Malla king of Kathmandu were celebrating Indra Jatra. Does that have a familiar ring? Our country is being brought to its knees with problems that are critical to the nation and our leaders are all involved in a perpetual jatra that has little to do with solving problems.

The Valley has a long history of foreign rulers being assimilated into the local culture who are all called Newars now. Only the Shah kings and other recent rulers have not been called Newars. But look now at what they have become: feasting on buffalo meat, raksi and non-stop bhoj-and most of them are Brahmins and other 'high' castes! They even imitated the Newari business skills and applied it to statecraft: the only value system the leaders have is making money and having a good time. Today government holidays rival the number of traditional Newari bhoj days. Felicitation advertisements to officials and government corporations cover more than half the revenue of major newspapers. Is this a not-so-subtle bribe to keep the media from prying into the rotten mess inside?

The territorial acquisitiveness of our past leaders is mostly over. The borders of Nepal are more or less well defined, but there are other territories to conquer: controlling corruption, reducing our shameful mortality rate among children and mothers and overcoming poverty and diseases running rampant in the hinterland. But none of these campaigns are of importance to leaders embedded in the Valley. Like the strong pull of gravity within a black hole that prevents even light from escaping, their attention rarely makes it beyond the Valley rim. All roads lead into Kathmandu - nothing seems to leave from here.

Prithibi Narayan Shah would have been wiser to let Gorkha remain the political capital. Kathmandu could have remained the economic and cultural capital. It's not too late to shift back to Gorkha, which is not such a far-fetched idea considering most of our leaders, including the Maoists, seem to germinate on the tars by the Marsyangdi. Perhaps in Gorkha some of the traits of our visionary past kings will rub off on their descendants.

What we need is a political capital that is in tune with the rest of this rugged and far-flung kingdom. This is certainly not so in Kathmandu, the nation's most fertile valley.

Kabindra Pradhan runs a farm in Butwal

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)