Nepali Times
State Of The State
Boom, gloom and doom


After storming into the history of Nepal with the Kot Massacre, Jang Bahadur did three things. First, he acquired social legitimacy by forcing intermarriages between the Shah clans with their Kunwar soldiers. Second, he reinforced it by either butchering or exiling the competition. Third, he acquired political legitimacy from the East India Company by offering the services of the Gorkha Army for activities like crushing the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny for which Karl Marx gave Jang the appellation 'British dog'.

These shrewd moves served Jang's extended clan for well over 150 years, even though his sons had to enjoy their prosperity in exile when his brothers did to each other what he had done to his illustrious uncles. The cross-marriages between the Shahs and Ranas fused the two into the single ruling family of Nepal.
Rai, Magar and Gurung youngsters paid with their lives in Flanders Field, Mesopotamia and the Burma Front so that Nepal's rulers would continue to profit from their ties to the British. Had successive Rana cousins been less tyrannical, perhaps the bravery of Gorkha soldiers would have been much less desperate. Nepali rulers got used to a 'permanent war economy': living as if there was no tomorrow.

Lord Krishna says in the Gita that people emulate what their 'superior beings' do, so the present generation of Nepalis has also learnt to live for the day. Kathmandu's rulers live their sepia colour life reminiscing about the good old pre-1990 days when the downtrodden knew their place and stayed there. The neo-elite lived off the glory of the Jan Andolan of 1990 that made them what they are. The Maobadis draw their inspiration from the China of 1960s, a period in their history that Chinese themselves are trying hard to forget.

A society lives in the present, with the memories of its past, without realising that it is undermining its own future in the process. After successive years of stagnation, the government predicts that the economy will grow by over 4.3 percent, exceeding the budgetary target set for this year. The World Bank reports that Kathmandu's air is the dirtiest of all 17 Asian cities that it surveyed, perhaps proving the link between economic growth and ecological suicide.

Such a rosy forecast from the Finance Minister makes one wonder if he has taken note of the poverty reduction equation that says it takes 6.8 percent growth in the GDP to create 2.5 percent more employment. It is unlikely that 4.3 percent economic growth will lead to any poverty reduction-especially given our present exponential growth in military spending.

The boom in Kathmandu amidst a climate of doom and gloom enveloping the rest of the kingdom is reminiscent of the early 20th century when the Ranas, rewarded for their loyalty to the British, competed to outdo each other by building extravagant palaces. History is testimony to what happened later. The paradox of plenty amidst poverty is inherently unsustainable.

These are some of the questions that we should be worrying about at the end of another year. Over time, the anti-monarchy slogans that rent Ratna Park will become redundant. Maobadis will ultimately peter out. There is no doubt that the people will finally prevail. Such is the march of history. As the Rig Veda says: "All things will pass."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)