What ails development in Nepal?: Absence of vision and core competence

Declaring Nepal a country of the world fraternity with a vision strutted by tourism as its core competence can result in an incredible transformation, in much the same way that an ordinary caterpillar turns into a beautiful butterfly

Like tigers that hunt in pairs, the idea of “road maps” and “visions” together haunted the national psyche of countries around the globe towards the beginning of the new century. Consequently, nations one after another began scripting their 20-year vision. Having a “vision” was considered so paramount that Vice President George Walker Bush thought he lacked the ability to drive a great country like the United States without one.

India could not stay aloof from this worldwide movement either. The country turned to Prof. Abdul Kalam for the preparation of a 20-20 vision, who engineered India’s entry into the World’s Nuclear Club. Kalam interacted with people from various walks of life in determining a vision for India that would propel it to prosperity. To his surprise, a 10-year-old girl opined that its vision should be to transform from a developing to a fully developed nation.

The utterance moved his heart, and Kalam wholeheartedly accepted this vision. India with a per capita income of $430 had to spike up to $1,539 in 2020 to realise Kalam’s dream. This has almost been a cake walk, given the fact that it reached $2014 in 2018 already.

Though the first half of the problem was solved, Kalam still had to wrestle with the tougher half: to determine the core competence of India, the one thing that it excels at when compared to every other nation. It is the actualisation of this core competence that provides success whether one be an individual or an institution. Kalam declared that technology is India’s forte and hence its core competence.

This 20-20 vision became so popular that he assumed the highest office of India by becoming its president. India has never looked back since then. Though the country’s developmental trajectory may not be very spectacular, it has been remarkably steady. One can see how India reached 52nd rank in the Global Innovation Index steadily from 60 in 2017 and 57 in 2018. Nepal, on the other hand, has been flipping between 108 to 109 for the last three years.

Why is Nepal among the laggards when so many of its peers, like South Korea in the early sixties, have moved far forward? It is because Nepal neither had a vision nor could it identify a core competence to actualise. It was content with the alleviation of poverty in the nineties, which in itself was no innovation by any stretch of the imagination. Like in a Bollywood movie, it was a mere playback song sung by the donors. The country is now parroting the slogan of Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepali, which sounds nothing but hollow without the identification of a suitable core competence to back it.

Nepal’s current state may appear quite grim in view of its developmental stagnancy in the past, but it is not without a silver lining. The silver lining is that Nepal drafted a new constitution. But in doing so, it did not simultaneously come up with a new development vision. It simply continued with what was already going on. It has not been able to spend even 60 per cent of what is, in all honesty, a peanut-size development budget of around 314 billion Nepali rupees. Consequently, people have not felt anything tangibly new despite nearly two years of majority communist governance.

Nepal should have a new vision because a good vision opens the door to success. The old vision, if one can even call it that, put the country in reverse gear instead of moving forward. But this vision should be based on some realities: historic, cultural or any other suitable to the country. Nepal could envision to be a nation of the world fraternity on the virtue of being the birthplace of the Buddha.

And tourism, religious tourism, in particular, could be the core competence. After all, the history of Nepal begins with the arrival of Bipaswi Buddha, Sikhi Buddha, Manjushri to Nepal. It was followed by the visit of Ananda, Buddha’s disciple and the Chinese travellers such as Fa Hein, Huen Tsang and so many others. Now that the Hindu tag is gone, it could be substituted by that of tourism.

As all Muslims have to pay a visit to Mecca, or Jews to Jerusalem in their lifetime, so would the majority of 1.44 billion tourists that travelled in the year 2018 wish to visit Nepal. We may have destroyed our show pieces like some of our vernacular architecture and culture, but places like Lumbini, Janakpur and Himalayas still continue to lure the tourists.

Much like Nepal’s distinctly different twin triangle flag amidst the sea of rectangular or square ones belonging to the other countries of the world, it should also have an innovative and distinct development strategy. Declaring Nepal a country of the world fraternity with a vision strutted by tourism as its core competence can result in an incredible transformation, in much the same way that an ordinary looking caterpillar turns into a stunningly beautiful butterfly.

Tourism needs more than lip service that has been accorded at the present, as it has the potential to change the face of the nation if pursued with full vigour. Nepal has a new Minister of Tourism in Yogesh Bhattarai, who is brimming with energy and enthusiasm. He has a two-thirds majority government to back him.

The time is ripe to make new initiations in order to propel the country into a developmental orbit instead of continuing with the usual orthodox national mindset.