Nepali Times
Get on with it

Just as well that tourism is in a deep slump. Pokhara needed to keep its hotel rooms full, and it reaped a bonanza from the Congress extravaganza. If foreign visitors don't come, it seems domestic political tourism will spring to the rescue. Despite an alcohol ban (can't trust our rulers with the booze) which hit bar sales, hotels and restaurants did brisk business. Drivers of Pokhara's vintage Datsun taxis were happy not just for the business, but also for an opportunity to editorialise on the antics of our politicians using choice epithets (which we can't repeat here). The country's movers and shakers were all there in their big cars: politicians with bulging suitcases, their businessmen pals carrying the cheque books. The only thing we can say is that some of that cash probably trickled down to Pokharites. (Although some hoteliers on the lakefront are afraid bills for fooding and lodging of politicos may never be settled-which isn't a surprise given the complete lack of scruples that characterises Nepali politics today.)

The one redeeming feature about the Pokhara Convention was the sight of delegates casting votes for party leadership. Only when political parties practise democracy within will we begin to have true democracy in our country's governance. And hopefully the mechanisms put in place at the present convention will mean that intra-party feuding of the kind that paralysed the nation in the run up to Pokhara will not happen again. Let them fight their internal battles internally, don't hold the country to ransom. The obsessive infighting stole precious government energy away from pressing problems: delivery of development services, resolving the Maoist insurgency, financial sector reforms, the looming threat of debilitating strikes in the hotel, transport and education sectors. Across all government offices, there was one refrain: "After the Convention." Let's face it: for the past four months we've had no government, which is why the fires of street protests burnt out of control for two days. The ruling party blames extreme political elements and enemies of democracy for fanning the flames, but it must bear the responsibility for bungling and allowing its internal power struggle to take priority over everything else.

Our politicians never tire of saying that they want to turn Nepal into a Singapore. Dream on. It would be unrealistic to think that it would even turn anytime soon into a Thailand, which ranks 63 in Transparency International's political corruption rankings. Absence of corruption in the political culture makes Singapore the cleanest in Asia, and it ranks sixth internationally. Singapore's Trade Minister George Yeo explained why his country was ahead: "Policies are formulated to benefit Singapore as a whole and not particular interest groups which finance political parties." The politico-business nexus that was present in Pokhara would do well to make a mental note of that.

The ruling party should now get down to the job of ruling. There is a lot of catching up and patching up to do. The rebel faction got enough votes to show that they are a force to be reckoned with. Party chairman and prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, must, for the sake of his party and the country, be inclusive and unite the party (even if it means sharing the spoils) so that he can have one more go at tackling the really serious challenges that this country faces.

Winter in Pokhara

Winter, as a venerable columnist pointed out in these pages last week, does strange things to people's minds. Where else does the urge to huddle together with 5,000 people you don't like very much and talk about politics come from? And overcoats. There's this new trend to bundle up in large penguin-like cloaks from some Scandinavian junket on democracy. This clearly causes over-heating and as a result synapses start misfiring wildly. You begin to think you can change the world, or at least solve all its problems in ten days, tops. The air seems balmy (it is) and you have a spring in your step (trampling over fleshy fellow-humans does make for smooth sailing). God's still in Machhapuchhre, and all's right with the world. Pokhara in winter does something to you: the lalupates brilliantly red against an azure sky, the blue-throated Himalayan barbets rushing in a flash of green wings, Griffon vultures trying to keep up with the soaring paragliders, the migrating Siberian ducks making a stopover by the lake. And amidst it all, the Great Nepali Congress Circus in full swing.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)