17-23 July 2015 #767

Plus ça change

Time waits for no-one and as Nepal stagnates, India and China progress
Foreign Hand

In your columnist’s perpetual quest for clues as to what makes this place tick, discovering Nepali Times on the news-stands 15 years ago came as a windfall. A journal in the language of foreign hands and imperialists that shed light on the murky, inscrutable world of local politics was most welcome and the fact I’m still clueless after all these years (despite being a frequent reader and  occasional contributor) should be blamed on nobody but me and the politicians.

Nepal has gone through more historic changes since this newspaper began than most countries experience in a century or more. Perhaps that’s why the year 2000 seems like a lifetime ago, a distant era when the country was a monarchy, war raged in the hills, people knew their neighbours and the economy still produced and exported something other than desperate workers. Since it seems so remote, one assumes things were very different in the Old Nepal, but how much has really changed? And have the changes benefited anyone beyond the elite?

A lot of water has certainly passed under the bridge, much of it toxic, as anyone who’s smelled the once holy Bagmati will agree. Since Nepali Times first appeared in July 2000 Nepal has had 14 governments, including 2 periods of ‘direct rule’ from the palace, 2 terms each for Girija and 

Deuba, and 1 caretaker ‘non-government’ under Chief Justice Regmi. Everybody who’s anybody in the political spectrum has had their turn, from RPP stalwarts Surya Bahadur Thapa and LB Chand on the right to Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai on the Maoist left, with the UML and Congress seizing opportunities from the center. We can assume each of these worthies cashed in on their brief spells in power, benefiting their party and nobody else, before getting evicted.

Royal massacres and coup d’etats, a parade of delusional governments, 6 more years of pointless war, a Peace Agreement that solved little, militant unionism and waves of extortion, the collapse of the national economy, a king deposed and republic declared, endless quibbling over a mythical constitution and the recent devastating earthquake… the mind boggles. Logically speaking, such historic events should be more than enough to usher in epic, ground-breaking change yet somehow Nepal’s remarkable ability to foster dual realities trumps logic once again, proving the French expression that the more things change the more they stay the same.

Look no further than the leaders of our once esteemed political parties. The same old reprobates still pilot the same old parties, who doggedly continue the same old tactics of undermining each other at the country’s expense. Within each party the same old rivalries continue to fester, constant and eternally futile, as the same headlines and faces of a decade ago are repeated in today’s edition. In most democratic countries party leaders resign after losing an election but our chiefs cling on shamelessly forever. It seems much has changed until we notice our politicians, their policies and anything else related to governance. 

The New Nepal, once heralded as an inclusive state created to uplift the masses, has only managed so far to include one new group at the government feeding trough (high caste Maoists). Janajatis, Dalits and everyone else are still excluded from power, the status of women looks to get worse under the new constitution and the poor remain hopelessly neglected. Corruption, rife in 2000, has recently spiked courtesy of the foreign donor’s disaster relief.

Things may have improved for a few (witness the plethora of new, expensive restaurants and fancy cars) but the Hand suspects the quality of life for many has deteriorated. Internal migration, spurred on by the war, overwhelmed Kathmandu Valley, leading to environmental degradation and overcrowding on a massive scale. The lack of opportunity (because not one of the 14 governments ever created any new jobs) has seen countless families sundered as the bread-winner is forced to work abroad in difficult conditions, which is sure to have unfortunate consequences on society. 

Prices rise while wages stagnate or disappear. Export mainstays like carpets, garments and handicrafts that once employed hundreds of thousands have all but collapsed and can’t be easily rejuvenated since most skilled workers have left the country. Many of the small industries closed by Maoist unions never re-opened and probably never will, leaving a non-productive remittance economy at the whim of foreign hands/employers. 

Those of us suffering from the Logic Syndrome (the persistent compulsion that things must make sense) are frustrated by the fact not one of the parties has allowed a talented, non-geriatric leader to rise to the top. The odds alone dictate an occasional hero would emerge after so many villains, but the hierarchy that’s wrecked the country for decades continues to hold sway and keep progressive individuals at bay.

Meanwhile, time waits for no-one and as Nepal stagnates, held hostage by its worse-than-useless politicians, India and China progress, improving the lives of many millions. Instead of following the trend and capitalising on the country’s strategic location Nepal is held back at every turn, and seems less prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century now than at the turn of the millennia. Needless to say, it should never have turned out this way.

Read also:

Interesting times, Editorial

15 year timeline, Om Astha Rai and Ayesha Shakya

The lost decade-and-half, Om Astha Rai

Egos at door, please, Bidushi Dhungel

The indifferent republic, Foreign hand

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