alfway around the world from Nepal, I've covered a lot of territory in the past week. On board passenger jets, in airports, bars and restaurants and in conversations with dozens of people, I'm struck by one thing. Nobody anywhere knows the extent of Nepal's agony.
In Delhi, the buzz is all about elections. How bad will the Congress party meltdown be? Will they finally ditch Sonia Gandhi? How big will Vajpayee's win be and what will that mean for a slew of domestic issues from taxes to Hindu temples in Ayodhya? Not a mention of Nepal anywhere, not even with extraditions of Maoists and pro-rebel rallies organised in Delhi. This is particularly worrisome, given that most analysts in Nepal seem to think that India's role in resolving the Maoist issue is crucial. It may be, but at the moment, India is busy, very busy. Nepal is doing little to engage India on this, merely reacting to issues and occasionally allowing misguided or malevolent local press barons to whip up anti-Delhi hysteria.
Make no mistake. People in India are concerned for Nepal. They ask after its welfare, still shake their heads about the royal massacre and compare the Maoists with their own loony Left in Bihar. But their concern is momentary and lapses when the talk moves onto local politics, peace with Pakistan, Musharaff's possible role in selling nukes to the North Koreans and most importantly-cricket, the upcoming test tour of Pakistan. Nepal rates far below all of these items on the Indian radar screen. A few days in London followed my time in India. In the heart of the beast that is the BBC, I again fielded questions about Nepal.
Well informed people-and there are many there-wondered which was in greater trouble: the Maoist insurgency or constitutional monarchy? My answers were long and a trifle complex. I could see even my most interested friends glazing over a little. They picked up a little when I told them that their tax money was being lavishly spent on various reports and media seminars by the dear old Department for International Development, DfID. And not much development. They all giggled at the thought of a recent junket for dozens of Nepali politicians to Northern Ireland, which a lot of DfID conflict resolution types seem to think is a resolved conflict. "At least they could sip some proper Guinness," remarked one friend who'd been here and tasted what passes for the famous black stout in Kathmandu.
But no notion of Nepal's dire challenges, of the sad demise of democracy, of the violence, the economic decline and the sheer absence of creativity at any level of the current leadership, or the rebellion's top cadres. Nothing. Finally, I sit now at sea level in America and listen to the world's loudest media cacophony. Iraq, Bush, Kerry, desertion, Vietnam, taxes, deficits, evil, terrorism and on and on. No Nepal. Perhaps it's for the best, maybe this place needs to be left alone to face its fate. But it's all rather sad.