Nepali Times
Welfare of the weakest

The Maoist insurgency may be a ruthless and violent grab for power. It may be part of a conspiracy by the far right to secretly co-opt the agenda of the far-left. It may be a plot by ex-panchas to dismantle parliamentary democracy and take us back to the bad old days. There may be foreign hands involved.

One or more of the above may be a fact. But there is one larger truth: the insurgency feeds on decades of indifference, disregard and utter lack of interest by a succession of governing elites in Kathmandu to the living conditions of its citizens. It is not by chance that more mothers die in Nepal in childbirth than in most other countries. The only places where more women die are where health services have been wrecked by years of civil war. That we have actually managed such an abysmal record of human un-development in peacetime underlines just how unconscionably negligent our state systems have always been.

Just this one statistic (forget about all the others for the moment) about the health of Nepali women reflects the cumulative result of a criminal lack of accountability of those who have been in power over the last 40 years, the apathy and neglect of those entrusted with delivering these services, and the smug unconcern of rulers in Kathmandu about the welfare and well-being of the weakest and most vulnerable citizens.

For decades now, we have debated Nepal's development dilemma. We have lamented ineffective and wasteful foreign aid, we have held countless seminars on governance and corruption. We have talked a lot, and we haven't done much. So, along come the Maoists and they say enough is enough, we need to shake Kathmandu awake. And they proceed to do so with a shockingly effective insurgency that capitalises on the disarray at the centre, by skilfully implemented psy-war that magnifies their strength, and by strategic alliances with their brothers-in-arms to paralyse the state apparatus.

At one level, this is all a power game. And there is no guarantee that our current revolutionaries will not rot like all the rulers who precede them. If that happens, the long-suffering people of Nepal will be let down one more time by a group that got to power through a war that was fought in their name. The paralysis of government and a sense of dread about the future has brought investment, development and governance to a grinding halt.

But at another level, it has woken people up somewhat in Kathmandu. Rubbing its eyes, the government thought up this Integrated Security and Development Plan which, though fatally flawed, at least shows a belated recognition of the need to win back the people through development. The threat of Maoist retribution has made village teachers teach, and doctors treat. Foreign aid projects are suddenly mindful about whether "the target groups are beneficiaries" not just in their reports, but in real life. However, improvements derived from threats and fear of punishment will not last. In the long run, public opinion expressed through a system of choosing the most efficient and honest delivery mechanism is the only way.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)