New mantras - Learning lessons from the past

New Nepal is a new slogan, an offshoot from the 6-point peace agreement signed between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists on November 8, 2006.

Slogans are too dogmatic and often impracticable. That is our past experience. B P Koirala’s ‘socialist Nepal’ producing ‘anything from needles to airplanes’ got aborted before it could mature in concept, let alone in practice. King Mahendra’s catchphrase to turn Nepal into a modern Japan remained nothing but wishful thinking. Equally tantalising was the buzzword of King Birendra to see a peaceful and neutral Nepal resembling Switzerland. But that turned out to be a wild-goose chase. Then came the obsession of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai to make Nepal another Singapore. That showed a big joke true to his habit. Thank God, G P Koirala is not capable of even dreaming and so we have no watchword from him. King Gyanendra’s jingle was too old and antiquated.

The latest to join our national dreamers is none other than Maoist chief Prachanda. His dream of having a Constituent Assembly for a new Nepal is on its way of fulfillment. His ambition to see a Republic of Nepal is not far from being accomplished. His strategy to break the old state has succeeded but the mission to give it a new order is yet to be completed. He was a problem as long as he was engaged in violence. Now he is a solution after he is stepping into non-violence. But his solution of communism is too outdated to be attractive. Communism is good only to inspire the people against exploitation but it is no good in getting rid of it. The world has moved far away from Marxism.

Nonetheless, a new Nepal is a good dream and a necessity. Instead of going after any ideology, it would be wise to learn lessons from the past for future courses. The first mantra we can prescribe is adopting the principle of communitism instead of communism. Communitism means to manage public affairs at the local level by handing over power and resources to the communities. Nepal has set good examples in managing the forest, irrigation, drinking water, education and health services through community participation and responsibility. Under a communist state, the ownership and management of natural resources would go under state control. That is what was done under our totalitarian and semi-totalitarian governments of the past. Needless to plead much about it nown as all the political parties including the Maoists have agreed to restructure the state on federal and regionally autonomous principles. The proven mantra is to empower the communities and to leave their affairs to them.

The second mantra is to bring as many people as possible into the country and send as many people as possible out of the country. The first is related to international tourism and the second to foreign employment. In both the cases, the government can be a good facilitator and not a direct actor. The record of 2005 showed that there were about 250,000 tourists visiting Nepal and almost the same number of the Nepalis going out for employment. If tourism has proven a big economic booster over the last 50 years, foreign remittance has confirmed itself as strong support to national economy for 10 years. Nepal and the Nepalis have been endowed with the basic qualities and qualifications to promote both these services wonderfully. In this context, the new Nepal should be a globalised Nepal and not a Gorkhalised Nepal.

It can be justified from yet another angle of looking at our past records. Nepalis have three ways to develop and get rich. One is by foreign aid, another by making profit from trade and, finally, by earning from foreign jobs. Foreign aid is good in infrastructure development but not in making the poor rich. In fact, our experience shows that foreign aid made the poor poorer and the rich richer and the gulf between them wider than ever before. Foreign trade is a great handicap due to Nepal’s landlocked position. Moreover, there are too many natural, technical and professional constraints to make it profitable in a big way as Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong have done. Compared to these sources, foreign employment has a big market for secure income. What the government needs to do is to guard our labour against exploitation by agents and employers.

The third mantra of a new Nepali is, of course, political stability that would be assured by the peace process. The peace agreement has set in motion the course for the management of arms, declaration of interim constitution, formation of a new parliament, a new interim government and finally elections to the Constituent Assembly. But to postpone the question of monarchy till the new assembly is constituted is foolish. When the eight parties can agree on so many controversial issues, they can agree to declare Nepal a Republic immediately. That would mark a sure beginning of a new Nepal. Not doing so casts doubts on their capability to build a new Nepal.

Shrestha is a freelance journalist