Nepali Times
Strictly Business
In clear conscience


Krishna Pahadi was thrown into jail on 9 February and released on Monday (see before and after pictures, below) . The state never explained why he remained behind bars for so long. Amnesty International called Pahadi a prisoner of conscience. More than 20,000 Irish children had mailed Free-Pahadi appeals to the government. Those who have worked with Pahadi since 1989 say he lives abstemiously, has long been critical of the excesses of both the army and the Maoists and believes in Thoreau-like acts of civil disobedience to push for peace and restoration of human rights. The drama of Pahadi's illegal detention should have been of interest to the Nepali business community.

His arbitrary arrest provided a window into the conflicting decision-making mechanism of the government. On one hand, it asserts constitutional prerogatives to legitimise its scope of governance in the name of the people in these troubled times. On the other hand, by not following the due process of law after arresting and detaining some of those very people in whose name it governs, it makes its distaste for legal niceties clear. It is the government's arbitrary interpretation of the law to suit its own convenience that Nepali businesses must find dangerous.

Still, they can tell themselves today Pahadi has been released, and it's really a distant concern whether or not he was jailed illegally. But tomorrow, some of them might be summoned to the Police Headquarters to be told that their business licenses are being revoked or that company registrations are being cancelled or that they have to cough up steep fines for displeasing the powers-that-be. Such a scenario is easy to imagine because the nightmarish consequence about keeping quiet when the government routinely bases its decisions on coercion and whims is that it feels bolder to strike anyone anywhere at anytime. Ultimately, what such a government does is reward those close to it, while making all other businesses fall far short of potential. The invisible hand mutates into the visibly grabbing hand, binding all to inaction.

Pahadi's arrest was also a signal that the government had its priorities muddled. When activists are jailed, journalists' work lives are curtailed and scholars are not allowed to travel abroad, all that the government succeeds in doing is in attracting negative publicity. In today's 24/7 media where all the news that's fit to search appears on Google, the long-term costs of incurring bad publicity far outweigh the short-term benefits from jailing people like Pahadi.

In recent years, rising global consumer activism has narrowed the distance between human rights concerns and hard-nosed business considerations. Ten years ago, for example, the bottom almost fell out of Nepal's carpet industry due to child labour issues. Today, unless garment companies enforce worker-friendly compliance procedures, they can't sell clothes to international buyers. Businesses are increasingly being asked to either help mitigate human rights violations in countries where they work or risk investors' wrath.

In such a changed context for doing good business, let Pahadi's case be a catalyst for Nepali businesses to come together. Let his walking out as a free man be symbolic of the environment in which Nepali businesses really thrive-without governmental arbitrariness and harmful worldwide publicity for Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)