National crisis - The bleeding has to stop
With the sole exception of remittance windfall, which has also reportedly contributed to the reduction in poverty by 11 per cent between 1996 and 2004, there is hardly anything to draw solace from in the conflict-torn economy of Nepal. Signs of major imbalances in the economy are vividly manifested by the growth rate of population (2.25 per cent) which is higher than the rate at which economy grew (2 per cent) last year: the result being a net decline in per capita income. Further, inflation is on the rise (about 5 per cent) threatening to seriously complicate the lives of Nepalis. What is wished in the periodic development plans and annual plans cannot be actualised and the expected outcome, be it rate of growth, incremental capital output ratio or spending money allocated under development head each year, has remained wishful thinking.
Unless peace is restored nothing meaningful can happen because the economy is being adversely affected by non-economic factors. In the last couple of months, security forces inflicted grave injury on the Maoists as is evident by the debacles they suffered in Ganeshpur, Sukhar and Khara. After these clashes, many thought that the Maoists would not be in a position to launch new offensive. The recent battle at Pili in Kalikot, however, significantly boosted the depressed morale of the Maoists and also indicated that they are not something to be brushed aside.
Looking at the nature of war and the current situation under which the security forces have to work, it seems that the armed conflict will continue for some more years delivering more blows to the economy and further encouraging mass exodus from rural to urban areas. Undoubtedly, the object of the current war is not to give it continuity but to end it at the earliest. Nobody in Nepal would be offended if peace is achieved through non-lethal ways. Each successive prime minister appointed under Article 127 of the constitution, including Deuba a second time, was given time for elections and restoration of peace. These governments failed to deliver the goods, paving way for the February 1 royal move.
A lot is being said about the intention behind the February 1 move. There is no dearth of politically charged people who suggest that democracy has been snatched away. But going through the proclamation of February 1 and the King’s commitments to democracy, people are also inclined to believe that the King, as a guardian of the nation, was left with no option but to embark on this risky venture. Serious differences between the current dispensation and the agitating parties have surfaced which should be cleared, preferably through dialogue, without inordinate delay. Hurling abuses at the monarch, making emotional speeches in favour of republican set-up and contemplating formation of an alliance with the rebels to further intensify the ongoing agitation by certain sections of some parties are not going to serve any purpose at a time when peace and stability are much in demand. Also, mud slinging and trading of accusations should stop. People on either side of the political divide should realise that backtracking into an autocratic regime is not possible and the monarch who has reiterated his commitment to democracy looks very clear about it.
The current situation warrants initiation of conciliatory efforts on the part of all those concerned, including the Maoists, who have also made it clear that revolutionary change in Nepal is not possible at present. It appears that they have taken into account the situation at home and the attitude of the neighbours. NC president GP Koirala, albeit belatedly, and also deviating a little bit from his earlier observations, has stated that constitutional monarchy would not be made a subject of serious debate in the forthcoming general convention. The Maoists have shown a reasonable level of flexibility on the issue of monarchy and UML stalwarts are not bitterly opposed to the institution either. Constitutional monarchy in Nepal is not at all a subject of serious debate, let alone an issue to seek people’s verdict on. Standing on some of these fundamentals, expeditious work towards attainment of peace is expected of forces active in Nepal.
The bleeding of the nation and that of the economy has to stop, the attainment of which can be effected through restoration of peace and normalcy. Everyone should contribute towards peace and stability. The need of the hour is to cooperate and not quarrel over numerous issues. Only a conciliatory approach can pave the way for prosperity and stability. Once the bleeding stops, those responsible for managing the nation and its economy should take advantage of the generosity shown in recent times in certain cases by multilateral and bilateral donors to revive the conflict-torn economy. Solid cases should be built for string-free assistance, preferably grant, from donors who will definitely rise to the occasion to heal the wounds of this economy.
Dr Rawal is former governor, NRB