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Singing the tunes

Publication Date : 12-09-2012


I left my ancestral village Rautbesi, Nuwakot and came to Kathmandu 50 years ago for my education. I was 12 years old and had two thoughts inculcated into me. One, I should work hard and satisfy my parents for the money they had spent on my education; and, two, I should participate in the struggle to restore democracy. After the 1990 People’s Movement brought democracy in Nepal, the government followed a liberal market economy which many hoped would allow the “magic of the marketplace” to guide resource allocation and stimulate economic growth.

In the 1993-94 fiscal year, Nepal’s GDP grew by a 30-year high of 8 percent. The economy lost the momentum after the Nepali Congress (NC) government fell due to infighting in the party. The subsequent nine-month rule of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) was total confusion as it could not balance its socialist stance and the promise to liberalise the economy. After the UML government collapsed in 1995, the country saw a series of coalition governments. This period was marked by perpetually squabbling parties, a politicised bureaucracy and unprecedented corruption.

Frustrated with this, a group of activists submitted a 40-point demand to the government and took to the jungles to wage a People’s War, one of whose objectives was to establish a democratic republican socialist country. This group of activists, known as the Maoists, waged a 10-year insurgency. The 2006 People’s Movement turned Nepal into a republic, elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA) were held, and people hoped that a new constitution would address long-standing political issues and pave the way to economic prosperity.

But this did not happen. The hard-earned CA died without making a constitution. Leaders till date have been accusing one another for the debacle. As far as the people know, one of the bones of contention among the so-called big parties that let the CA die was whether to accept a common identity-based federalism or a single caste-based federalism. It is interesting to note that one of the leaders of the same group of activists that waged the 10-year People’s War is our prime minister today. Also interesting is that there has been a split in this party and there have been calls for a repeat of history with the splinter group submitting a 70-point demand to the government.

The problems people are facing today are more severe than before. Ours is a small economy worth just Rs 1,558 billion. Our daily national income stands at a little below Rs 4.27 billion. Think about the size of the national income we could generate if there were no frequent bandas. The most hopeless story is that the industrial sector’s growth has been stuck at 0.3 per cent for the last five years. The carpet industry miracle exists no more. The contribution of the manufacturing sector is ever shrinking terribly — a result of politically indoctrinated workers’ unions confronting employers. This has inflicted additional costs on the economy. Such a culture of confrontation will never allow us to forge a “New Nepal” where our hopes, dreams and aspirations could turn into reality.

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is singing the tune of consensus, but it intends to restrict the NC and the UML from working together and expose them as anti-federalists. It has brought votaries of ethnicity-based federalism together to corner them. The formation of the Federal Democratic Republic Alliance (FDRA) under its leadership is a calculative move in that direction. The NC and the UML are no less responsible for the present political deadlock. What does Sushil Koirala expect Prachanda to do to build a broader national consensus given his incapability to build consensus within his own party? The same holds true for Jhalanath Khanal.

Nepali leaders epitomise a strange character: They keep fighting tooth and nail for a long time; and after every such fight, they make a show of meeting together as an effort to bury the hatchet and reach some long-lasting decision, but they fail miserably to deliver. They never look back and review their actions. They just keep blowing their own trumpet. To them, consensus means others agreeing with them completely by giving up their stances. Consensus to them never means all working jointly to devise a golden mean. The Maoists seem not to have forgotten their violent upbringing. Instead of pouring oil on troubled waters, it even threatened to meet the opposition on the street and settle the issues there.

The leaders should realise that there is no substitute for consensus. It was the presence of consensus that enabled them to finish the Panchayat regime and dethrone the monarchy; it was the absence of consensus that strangled the CA to death. Such examples should suffice to instil a collaborative culture among them. The leaders of the so-called big parties now have only two choices — either take cognizance of the facts and keep doing the needful to prove your existence, or make way for those who closely follow the time signals and act commensurately. Why stay at the helm while being complete nonentities?

Khatri is a freelance consultant and teaches economics at Kathmandu College of Management


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