A friend told me that a whole community of deprived people he just visited has become dependent on foreign assistance for their every-day needs. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has returned to New Delhi after his two-day visit to Nepal, making this dependency disease acuter.
My friend said until the foreign money poured, the community worked hard to make a living. They were poor but had the self-respect and dignity of standing on their feet. Now that the foreign money comes in, the whole community has abandoned its traditional occupations, skills, and crafts. They have lost their traditional skills while have yet to acquire new skills.
I have noted it across Nepal over decades. People have abandoned their villages, farms, and arts and crafts and moved to towns and cities or foreign countries seeking employment. When the population declined, wild animals — monkeys, jackals, raccoons, and other pests — have invaded the villages and made them unlivable, forcing those who had stayed behind to move into towns and cities.
Some of the people who moved out of their traditional home have become better off. However, the majority has suffered poverty, humiliation, and other indignities. This example has become emblematic of the lahure culture of entire Nepal.
This is the lahure culture: Working for others is better than working for ourselves, especially in a foreign country. And those who stay in Nepal prefer to live on remittances rather than doing hard work at and around the home. This dependency culture has been a national phenomenon in Nepal.
Changing skill sets and occupations is a natural process of evolution. Therefore, we should not be too much worried about it. What should worry us is the lack of new skills while people have abandoned the old ones. As a result, a large number of people have nothing to support them.
While we the people need to take some blame for it, our political and community leaders deserve the lion’s share of the blame, because they set the policy and run the country and community. That brings me to Narendra Modi’s Nepal trip.
Mr. Modi was generous with his words about Nepal. He praised Nepal for its elections, promised a billion rupee assistance for the Ramayan Circuit, and started the construction of the Arun Power Project with Prime Minister Oli. Only time will tell whether his words translate into concrete actions. Nonetheless, no country can develop with foreign assistance alone, no matter how generous it is. The key to progress lies in the hand of the country concerned, particularly its leadership.
Due to its geo-strategic location, Nepal cannot develop without the generous cooperation of its immediate neighbors, mainly India. India looms large because Nepal depends on its southern neighbor for its transit to third countries as well as for essential goods and services, pilgrimage and cultural nourishment. The difficult Himalayan Mountains hinder the same levels of multiple interactions between Nepal and China, the other adjoining country.
India has three key interests in Nepal: security, water resources, and market. Since the days of the British Raj, India has viewed Nepal as a buffer between it and China and sought to keep it in its grips. Started with the Treaty of Sugauli, the trend has continued through the 1923 Treaty and the 1950 Treaty that enshrine such dependent relationship.
Under the 1950 Treaty, Nepal cannot import third-country military hardware without Indian approval. Foreign aggression against one is deemed as aggression against both. So much so, India had opposed the construction of the Kodari-Kathmandu Highway, and the contract given to a Chinese builder to construct the Kohalpur-Banbasa section of the East-West Highway.
India’s interest in Nepal’s water resources is threefold. It wants to tap the water in Nepal to produce power, for which demand is increasing by nearly 20 percent every year. It wants to irrigate its arid northwest by training rivers of Nepal. It also wants to protect its floodplains by taming rivers within Nepal.
Nepal’s captive market is another area of Indian national interest. Nepal’s largest trading partner is India. It depends on India for essential goods and services of all kinds — from construction material, medicine, petroleum, textbooks for higher education, films, clothing to motor vehicles. New Delhi would like to keep Nepal that way.
On the one hand, we should be grateful to India for what it has done for Nepal. Perhaps no sector in Nepal is free from Indian assistance at one time or another. Education, health, roads, power, agriculture, you name it and India has assisted Nepal in those sectors.
There is nothing wrong for India to protect and promote its national interest in Nepal, we in Nepal somehow find it unacceptable for India to do so. Sure, because India is a much larger and more powerful, Nepal naturally feels overwhelmed by its neighbor and sometimes, Indian leaders have not been fair to Nepal.
For instance, the three economic blockades simply because Nepal sought to chart a slightly independent course. Once, Nepal asked the Indian border mission to leave the Nepal-China border, again when Nepal bought some Chinese weapons, and again when Nepal promulgated its new constitution without India’s consent. The disproportionate share of benefits from the Koshi and Gandak Projects is another example.
While some of the blame lies with India, Nepal’s leadership is equally culpable in this unequal relationship. According to responsible officials of India, Nepali leaders may talk about their national interest in public, but in private they only speak about their personal interest. Even though the Nepali people elect them, they seek India’s help to become prime minister and ministers or to keep their posts.
For this reason, successive kings and prime ministers have failed to protect and promote Nepal’s national interest with respect to India. Now the Modi fever has caught Nepali leaders and a large section of Nepali intelligentsia. Let us hope our political and intellectual leaders would not make any compromise on our national interest with India during Modi’s visit.
The late US President John Kennedy had said, “Don’t ask what America can do for you; ask what you can do for America.” To paraphrase the statement, we should ask not what other countries can do for us. We should ask what we can do for our country. Only it will reduce our dependency on other countries.