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B. Raj Giri: Nepal: Beginning of a New Era?

Nepal: Beginning of a New Era?


By B. Raj Giri

A new chapter in Nepal's history entered on 1st of February, 2005. King Gyanendra initiated this history by sacking unproductive Sher Bahadur Deuba led coalition government, declaring state of emergency, and most of all by forming the cabinet under his direct supervision. This has meant that 'many basic rights have been suspended, including freedom of assembly, the right to privacy and the right against preventative detention.'

As expected, King Gyanendra's 'moves have been criticised by the UN, the US, the UK, India and rights groups' and he has defended by saying 'he had to act as the government failed to protect Nepal from the Maoists.' Whether one likes this King or not, Nepal was in terrible mess and he took the boldest step to hopefully sort things out. Unfortunately, for a small and dependent country, even a minor political development gives the biggest excuse to opportunist leaders of especially India, and the US to squeeze Nepal in whatever ways they want. They are arguing about 'restoring democratic norms,' but who will believe that the leaders of these countries are really interested in a genuine democracy in Nepal? For instance, think carefully about Bhutan, Saudi Arabia, and even Iraq.

Surprisingly, our Westernised Nepalese from the US are running after the banner of 'liberal democracy', in the UK 'ideals of democracy' and in Benelux 'people's democracy'. It is mind-blowing to hear such dry rhetoric, especially of those who have little concern/respect for their ancestral culture, country, and those unable to come out of their little selfish world to actually do something for millions of people suffering in Nepal. I feel sorry to remind their ignorance that 90 percent of Nepalese live in rural areas, and over 60 percent are totally illiterate, these people are suffering from food shortages and violent Maoist atrocities; they are abandoned by political leaders who won elections through gangs and thugs, and as they struggle for daily survival rural Nepalese know absolutely nothing about democracy. Of course, benefits have gained in the past 15 years of multiparty democraZy (or democracy?) by Nepal's urbanites, media outlets, political leaders, state bureaucrats, and Maoist extremists. Today, King Gyanendra's state of emergency first and foremost has curtailed those who were dancing in Western lifestyle in urban centres.

Everyone expected that Nepal needed a change because 13 prime ministers in 15 years is really too much any decent person. And on 1st of February, 2005, King Gyanendra took the biggest gamble in his life saying that he will quell eight year old reckless violence, rampant corruption, and fight mass poverty in rural Nepal. These are undoubtedly the most pressing problems in the country, but will he be able to fulfil these troubles largely accumulated over the past 15 years of misrules? Days ahead are bumpy for King Gyanendra even though external criticism will fade away in due time. He has to be able to fight all sides, including the redundant political parties and their militant student organisations. There are specifically three areas that are likely to determine the success (or vice-versa) of King Gyanendra's new chapter in Nepalese history.

Rampant corruption and dishonesty at all levels of state bureaucracy means that King Gyanendra faces a serious challenge in managing state functionaries. It has become apparent that Nepalese bureaucrats have no interests in serving their own country. As Maoist violence looms, most of them have engaged in either amassing state wealth to buy secure complexes in urban centres or to send their families to Western countries. At least in one case known to most Nepalese living in Europe, a junior bureaucrat has managed to send a whole community to European countries. The story of Nepal police, accepted globally as the most corrupt state body of Nepal, runs almost parallel with Maoist extortionists. For example, is it possible to believe that a simple police inspector is able to build an 18 bed-room complex next to Kathmandu's international airport? To fight corruption effectively, King Gyanendra should give sweeping power to the corruption watch-dog body, Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) so that it can immediately bring all those corrupt bureaucrats and leaders, including those like Girija Koirala who think they are above the law to justice. The effective functioning of CIAA is not only an imperative to tackle corruption, but also to raise revenues to deal with the problems of poverty, and Maoist atrocities.

Secondly, King Gyanendra should start a genuine land and income redistribution system so that 90 percent of subsistent Nepalese are able to receive relatively fair share of national properties. A special agenda must be set for the lowest castes, women and indigenous people. Obviously he has to learn from the failure of his father's much talked about land reform program in the 1960s. It is impossible to disagree that widespread poverty and general abandonment of rural population led to the current truculent situation in Nepal. So, only the combination of pro-poor policies and vigorous offensive against Maoist rebels is likely to bring long-term peace and stability in the country. For now, without peace and stability, it makes little sense to dream about 'democracy' albeit its necessity.

Thirdly, Nepal has skyrocketing unemployment rate (47 percent by some estimates), which is not reflected in official statistics at all. While sons and daughters of poor villagers are dying for nothing, Nepal's rebels are the ones taking undue advantage of mass unemployment. At present, prospect for employment generating activities looks grim. King Gyanendra must speed up recent progress made in overseas contract work by introducing concrete guidelines for employment agencies. Priority should be given to young people who are genuinely escaping from Maoist threats and those surrendered Maoist rebels whose lives are in danger. The concern here is not simply finding a job for idle youth, but Nepal is dependent on remittances (up to 100 billion Nepalese rupees in a year) from foreign countries, which cannot be underestimated, especially at this troubled hour. Nonetheless, seeking jobs abroad is only a short-term solution for a limited number of people. The real urgency of seeking alternative employment domestically must also be pursued simultaneously. Democracy, whatever it means, is essential in the long run, but without peace, it cannot flourish for the benefit of majority of Nepalese. And peace is impossible without a stable government, who is committed to tackle the unimaginable mess hoarded in the last 15 years. Now, all eyes are on King Gyanendra, who has taken the biggest gamble. Success is the only option he has got. We shall wait and see whether he will accomplish his commitments in the next three years.

*************

B. R. Giri, has an MA in International Relations and Developmental Studies from the University of Amsterdam. He is working on his Ph.D.from London. He is also a founder of Sathi Foundation

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