Kul Chandra Gautam's book on Nepal's challenges, opportunities launched

KATHMANDU: Former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Kul Chandra Gautam's book "Lost in Transition: Rebuilding Nepal from Maoist mayhem and mega earthquake" was launched in Kathmandu on Saturday.

Former President Ram Baran Yadav made the book public at Nepa~laya's r-sala after receiving the first official copy from the author as gift.

The book has explored political and economic challenges that Nepal faces and offered solutions to cope with them and rebuild the nation.

Speaking at the function, the former UN official said no one should make any compromise on the issues of human rights, rule of law and democracy.

Recalling his advocacy for UN's role in resolution of Nepal's decade-long armed conflict, Gautam stated that he firmly believed in the principles on the United Nations, and was not happy with the role of some UN officials role in Nepal during the peace process. The book includes a chapter, titled "Deception and Delusion of International Community", in which the author has criticised some members of the Kathmandu-based international community for their lopsided views and actions after the Maoists joined the peace process.

"At the time when the base for democracy and prosperity was being built, the Maoists raised the issues of the exploited and the marginalised," Gautam stated, "Their movement, however, mired the country at a critical point of time when it was rising after the reinstatement of multiparty democracy."

Commenting on the book, political scientist Hari Sharma said Gautam's book was a political commentary coupled with the author's experiences.

"This book is reflective rather than academic," he stated, adding, the narrative in Gautam's work was different from other books.

The book concludes on an optimistic note showing opportunities for Nepal's development, according to Sharma.


The new publication would also help understand various issues of contemporary Nepali politics including Maoist conflict in Nepal, protracted political transition, elections of Constituent Assembly and the constitution-making, he added.

Meanwhile, social scientist Prof. Chaitanya Mishra said the ones who want to understand contemporary Nepal should read the book "as the author delves deep to identify both the reasons for Nepal’s missed development and to seek solutions".

The book includes an epilogue on India's de facto blockade against Nepal, where the author has suggested how Nepal should deal with its neighbours while protecting its rights and interests.

Publication Nepalaya said the e-version of the book would be available at www.weread.com.np for Android and iOS devices.

Hard copy is available at leading book stores for Rs 675.

About the Author

Kul Chandra Gautam, a former senior official of the United Nations, is a distinguished diplomat and development professional. Currently, he serves on the Boards of several international and national organisations, charitable foundations and public private partnerships. Previously, he served as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. He was then the highest ranking Nepali in the UN system. In a career spanning over three decades, he served in senior managerial and leadership positions with UNICEF in several countries and continents.

In 2010-11, Gautam served as Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Nepal on International Affairs and the Peace Process. He is active in Nepal’s civil society in promoting human rights, socioeconomic development, peace, democracy and good governance. Internationally, he continues to be active in consultations on the UN’s sustainable development goals, particularly in areas of child rights, global health, basic education and human development.

About the Book

Nepal is a land of spectacular natural beauty and abundant natural resources, in a strategic geographic location between China and India, with their large and vibrant economies. With such favourable assets and the tremendous goodwill of the international community, Nepal ought to have a galloping economy and a prosperous society. Yet, it remains mired in poverty and is considered one of the world’s least developed countries.

What holds Nepal’s economy back? And what would it take to unleash its development potential? This book tries to address these issues from the perspective of a Nepali development professional with extensive experience in international development.

From his perch at the United Nations, Kul Chandra Gautam followed the political and socioeconomic developments in his home country with a mixture of great hope and deep anxiety. He rejoiced at Nepal’s good progress in achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals, such as drastically reducing maternal and child mortality, eradicating and controlling certain deadly diseases, promoting basic education and women’s empowerment. But he was chagrined by the fratricidal Maoist insurgency that derailed Nepal’s nascent democracy and bourgeoning economy.

Gautam offers a candid critique of what ails Nepal’s politics and economy, and how to rebuild the country from the ruins of the prolonged Maoist mayhem and the mega earthquake of 2015. He calls for an end to Nepal’s seemingly endless political transition and shifting the nation’s focus to economic development and social progress.


Kofi Annan and the Maoist Atrocity in Madi

(Chapter: My Involvement in Nepal's Peace Process)

Although Nepal was not a high priority among the many international crises Secretary-General Kofi Annan had to deal with, he did occasionally show some interest and concern. Among other occasions, I vividly remember meeting him at a reception on 6 June 2005. Earlier that day the UN had issued a press statement expressing deep concern about the Maoist attack the previous day (5 June 2005) on a public passenger bus in Madi in Chitwan district where a large number of innocent passengers were killed and mutilated. Although it was one of many brutal and barbaric acts committed by the Maoists against innocent civilians, I had thought that the UN press statement was probably one of those many pro-forma routine statements that are issued in the name of the Secretary-General, which the UN leader might not even personally know about.

But to my surprise, that evening in a crowded reception hall at the UN, Kofi Annan walked past many dignitaries and came towards me in one corner and whispered, “Kul, I am so shocked and saddened to learn about the Maoist attack on a civilian passenger bus in Nepal yesterday. What is the matter with these Maoists?”  I briefly shared with him my take on the situation in Nepal, and was happy to know that he had a genuine concern for Nepal.

I also had several discussions with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Sergio Vieira de Mello, a brilliant Brazilian diplomat whom I had known well when he served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and later as UN Transitional Administrator in East Timor. Sergio had been very impressed by the Nepali peacekeepers in East Timor, and was very empathetic about Nepal. I discussed with him if he might help facilitate a peace process in Nepal linking it with issues of human rights, and he was very interested. But he was then assigned as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Iraq and was tragically killed in the terrorist attack on the UN Headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003.

…I personally agreed with a statement by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that there was no military solution to the conflict. But seeing the failure of various initiatives by Nepali civil society activists as well as international NGOs, and European governments e.g. Switzerland and Norway, very mixed messages coming from India, and rather timid efforts of the UN, I decided to speak up and advocate for a stronger, more proactive role for the UN.


Federalism Not Universal Norm

(Chapter: Fetish of Federalism)

Highly exaggerated claims are made on the virtues and vices of federalism by its proponents and detractors in Nepal. Proponents present federalism – especially its identity-based variety – as the solution to all of Nepal’s ills. In particular, it is claimed or assumed that federalism is an antidote to the widely acknowledged discrimination and injustice against many of Nepal’s historically deprived and marginalised communities. The anti-federalists, on the other hand, fear federalism leading to disintegration of Nepal.

I happen to think that federalism is neither a grave threat to Nepal’s national unity and integrity as its detractors fear, nor a panacea for all our social ills, political exclusion and economic inequity, as its true believers proclaim.

Let us be clear that, unlike democracy, human rights, nonviolence and pluralism, federalism is not a universal value or norm, but a political choice. So, support or opposition to it must not be treated as inherently progressive or regressive view, but a pragmatic and strategic political choice. Perfectly intelligent, reasonable and progressive thinkers can justifiably take a position in favour of federalism or against it, or for differing models of federalism.

However, in Nepal’s highly polarised political discourse, it was unfortunate that the debate degenerated to simplistically categorise people as supporters of change or of status quo based on their views on federalism, or types of federalism. The Maoists, some Madhesis and Janajati activists tended to make sweeping remarks that all critics and opponents of their favoured model of federalism are inherently feudal, elitist and status quoist. Curiously, some Western diplomats and academics seemed to buy this simplistic characterisation. The truth is more complex than this simple black and white stereotyping.

Federalism is one approach among many, to structure a state and to respond to its people’s aspirations. Of the nearly 200 sovereign states in the world only a small minority – about two dozens – have adopted some kind of federal model. If federalism were such a great model and a harbinger of an inclusive and prosperous society, many more countries would have chosen that model. And among those countries that have chosen the federal model, there are as many examples of success as failures, especially in developing countries. Understandably, Nepali political activists and academics tend to cite selective examples that suit their preference.


Spurning King Gyanendra’s Offer

Chapter: My Involvement in Nepal's Peace Process

When I was still at the UN, and met visiting Nepali political leaders in New York or during my visits to Kathmandu, some of them used to ask me if/when I planned to return to Nepal, and some even invited me to join their party or government in senior positions. I always said that while I was interested in contributing to Nepal’s development, I was not interested in joining any political party or serving in the government.

An interesting episode happened on 8 October 2002. I was at a Dasain party at the residence of the Nepali Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Ambassador Murari Raj Sharma. I returned to my apartment late at night and went straight to bed. Around 3am in the morning, when I was fast asleep, a telephone call woke me up. At the other end of the phone was a somewhat familiar voice from Nepal. The caller was Mr. Prabhakar Rana, one of King Gyanendra’s close advisors and a business partner.

Rana said that he was calling me with an urgent message from His Majesty King Gyanendra to inquire if I would be ready to accept an important ministerial position in a new cabinet which the King was about to appoint soon. I was quite surprised and puzzled because it was something completely unexpected. I asked Rana if he had not called me by mistake as I was not a political person, and did not have any political ambitions. Furthermore, the King and I had never met before and I presumed the King would not know what my interests and capabilities were.

Rana said that although the King had not personally met me, he knew much about me – my good international reputation, diplomatic skills, professional competence and clean image. The fact that I did not have a political background or baggage was actually a plus point from the King’s point of view, and that was partly why he had deliberately wished to approach me. The King had just fired Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba the previous week, charging him of incompetence. He was looking for some competent personalities with a clean image – swachchha chhavi bhayekā vyakti – and apparently I fit the profile perfectly.

I told Rana that I was very flattered by His Majesty’s high regard for me and felt honoured that he was offering me a high position in his cabinet to serve the nation. However, politics was not really my cup of tea, and having been away from Nepal for many decades, I was not familiar with how things get done in the Nepali political and administrative milieu. So I might not be able to meet the King’s expectations or the high standards of performance that I expect of myself.


“The End of the CPA”

Chapter: Deception and Delusion of International Community

In a private email to me on 28 August 2010, with the provocative subject tag “The end of the CPA”, Ian Martin posed the question: “Dear Kul, Have India, the NA and the caretaker Government gone completely mad?”

He complained that the Nepal Army had been consistently acting in bad faith against the spirit of AMMAA and CPA and that “a caretaker government with limited legitimacy, not even speaking for the whole of one side of the peace process, was now proposing to unilaterally abrogate the CPA/AMMAA, under external influence and that of an army out of any civilian control”.

He said that the Security Council was going to have to consider the UN role in a peace agreement with implications for UN credibility anywhere. As neither the caretaker government nor the UN can revise the AMMAA without consensus including the Maoists, nor can the UN monitor on any other basis, it was his view that the only proper UN response to a request to do so would be to suspend all monitoring pending discussions with a new government. That would mean no monitoring of the cantonments or weapons in the meantime.

Martin went on to say that: “This is going to discredit the caretaker government and the NA in New York, and – as a private citizen – I shall do what I can to ensure that this is the case.”

I was stunned by such statement from a seasoned diplomat, although expressed in a private communication. In a long and polite response, I told Martin that I found his judgment of “India, the NA and the caretaker Government gone completely mad” rather sweeping. I said that I knew he was too intelligent to imply by such statement that only the Maoists continued to remain sane, sensible and progressive. But his sweeping statement saying “Now a caretaker government with limited legitimacy... out of any civilian control”, made me wonder how open-minded he was.

Quoting his resolve, in his own words – as a private citizen – to do whatever he could to discredit the caretaker government and NA, I said that sounded to me like the view of a partisan activist, even if he had the best of intentions, as he saw it, for the good of the Nepali people.



Unsent Letter to Prachanda

In June 2005, I had a kidney transplant in New York. As I was recuperating from the aftermath of the major surgery, I was following the news of the intensifying civil war in Nepal which was causing huge loss of life and destruction of infrastructure. I was very sad and worried for Nepal’s future. At times, I felt more worried about Nepal’s health and future than my own.

Although I was a UN official, and had to remain neutral and uninvolved in my country’s political affairs, I had started voicing my views, in a non-partisan manner, both publicly and privately. I was quite critical of the government of the day, the parliamentary political parties, the Royal Nepal Army and King Gyanendra for mishandling the conflict. But I saw the Maoist rebels as a greater longer-term threat to Nepal than all other political players.

So during my convalescence from kidney transplant, I decided to write a long personal letter to the Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” with an appeal to him and the leadership of the CPN (Maoist) to spare Nepal from needless tragedy, and to redeem some aspects of the Maoist progressive agenda.

When I consulted a few Nepali friends, they suggested that I should send the letter in Nepali so it would be more widely read and better understood. Indeed, two of my good Nepali friends, Anup Pahari and Girija Gautam, helped translate an early draft of the letter which I had written in English.

As I was bedridden, it took a long time for me to finish my long letter. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground in Nepal seemed to be changing. News came that an expanded Central Committee meeting of the CPN (Maoist) in Chunwang in September 2005 had taken some important decisions, which offered some hope for a negotiated solution to the conflict. Sensing that the contents of my letter and my sentiments might hopefully be overtaken by some positive developments on the ground, I never finalised and dispatched my letter to Prachanda.

In retrospect, I feel that even all these years later, some of the messages and sentiments contained in my original unsent letter to Prachanda are still relevant and might be of some historical value. Hence I reproduce below the full text of the original unsent letter without any modification. It should be noted that while the letter was addressed to Prachanda and CPN (Maoist), it also contained two annexes, one reflecting my views of the then King and the monarchy, and the other containing suggestions for the then parliamentary political parties. I added these annexes, after informally sharing the draft letter with UN-DPA’s Tamrat Samuel who suggested that it might be worthwhile for me to write similar letters to the King and the parliamentary political parties.

Needless to say, the letter and the annexes should be read keeping in mind the realities and context of 2005 rather than the current situation of Nepal as it has evolved.