Murari Sharma: This is what Chanakya would have said

Are you happy with the progress happening in Nepal? Most probably, you are not. I am not happy either. My unhappiness, like yours, is related to the lethargy, instability, lack of direction, corruption, etc. that we witness day in day out in the government. Yet, the country has been moving on spontaneously, with or without government intervention. It would be good if the new government becomes a positive force change. 

The country is on the cusp of having a new government. General elections for the federal and seven provincial legislatures have just been finished, and the left coalition of the CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Center) has won shy of a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament and comfortable majority in six out of seven states. Though differences remain among political parties regarding the election of the upper federal chamber, it will be sorted out one way or another. Therefore, it is time to focus on the future.

Already, the contours of the future have been spelled out in the victors’ election manifestos. For the future, the contours have already been drawn. The alliance members have promised heaven in their election manifestos. If the left coalition delivers only on half of its pledges, Nepal will have a successful economic take-off in the next five years. 

As many elements for the take-off are already there, the country is waiting for a big push to launch it. When I was growing up, I had to walk for three days to reach Dharan, the nearest motor head for my village in Bhojpur. My village had no piped water and electricity. My town, Dingla, had no college. Traveling and working abroad was a big deal. Going to the Terai involved the risk of malaria.

Now, those things have changed. You can travel to Dingla by sports utility vehicles (jeep), at least during the dry season. My village has electricity and piped water and my hometown has a college. Malaria has been eradicated in the plains. Now almost every house in my village has someone working or studying overseas.

On the national level, poverty has declined significantly and standards of living have improved. The people living below the poverty line was 41. 5 percent in 1984/85, 49 percent in 1991/92, and 25 percent in 2015. Income, education, and health services have improved, pushing the longevity to 69 years average (WHO, 2015).

Yet, there is wide dissatisfaction among my friends and compatriots about the country’s performance, especially in the post-1990 period. The country has been waiting for the big push for quite some time, but governments one after another have failed to deliver it. While the failure has been apparent in myriad areas of national life, it is nowhere as pronounced as in enduring political instability, rampant corruption, and anemic economic growth. 

In the post-1990 period, Nepal has suffered political instability as never before. Sure, you cannot and should not expect the panchayat era political stability because democracy is a managed chaos. Every few years, you have elections to change the government, but Nepal’s has been chaotic chaos, not organized chaos. 

No majority government has run its full 5-year course. The majority government of the Nepali Congress collapsed due to the factional fights during the first and the third parliament. The second parliament, as well as the first and second constituent assembly, were hung houses with the attendant frequent changes in government. In addition, we had the decade-long bloody insurgency launched by the Maoists in 1996 and the abolition of the monarchy in 2008, both of which rocked the country to its core. No wonder why from 1990 to date, we have had 24 prime ministers, excluding the cabinets presided over by King Gyanendra twice, and 10 from 2006 alone. 

Such political instability has promoted and nurtured a culture of rampant corruption. Corruption had been around during the panchayat era as well, but it had been limited. Only the royal family could engage in corruption without fear. Now it has been institutionalized and accepted as never before. The institutionalization of corruption is so deep that political bosses have been openly auctioning off public posts and contracts to the highest bidders. They have been appointing people, as ministers and members of anti-corruption bodies, who have been publicly known as corrupt. 

Now corruption has evolved as a badge of honor and basis for state reward. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has become prime minister twice despite touting his own corruption publicly in his 2002 video. Khum Bahadur Khadka and Jay Prakash Gupta received hero’s welcome when they were released from jail at the end of their sentence for corruption. 

As a result, Nepal’s best corruption perception index score has been 90 in 2004 and the worst 154 in 2011, while the rest of the years have been around 125. This is shameful.

Both the political instability and the rampant corruption have cursed economic growth. No prime minister has had long enough time to see his vision implemented for five years. Consequently, the growth rate has suffered over time as well as in relation to other countries. According to the CEIC (a Euromoney Institutional Investor Company), from 1965 to 2016, Nepal’s growth has crossed 7.5 percent thrice, twice before 1990 and only once in the post-1990 period, which does not speak well of the success of democratic governments to deliver economic growth. 

Similarly, Nepal’s economic growth has been lackluster in relation to other countries as well in the post-1990 period. China grew by double digits until it has decelerated in the last few years. India grew close to double digits in the same period. Bangladesh, the sick man of South Asia, has grown by around 7 percent a year in the post-1990 period overall and at around 13.7 percent on average in the 2007-17 period. Bhutan has done much better than us as well.

Despite these ailments in the public sector, people have been taking private initiatives to push the country forward when the government has not worked as an obstruction. For instance, after the government relaxed restrictions on passports and foreign exchange, people have been going abroad for employment and studies, sending back remittances, and bringing back skills, which have contributed to Nepal’s growth.

The remittances have mitigated poverty and kept its balance of payment favorable. The skills have contributed to employment and productivity and unlocked entrepreneurship. Private schools, colleges, clinics, and hospitals have cropped across the country. Growing cash crops has come into vogue. Building local feeder roads have become an obsession, and most people have access to mobile phones, and most towns have Internet connections.

In other words, things are happening in Nepal, though the contribution to them from the government is minimal. Everyone in my village now wears shoes and flip-flops, travels by road, and send their children to school. Of course, the condition should have been much better. I only hope the next government, elected under the new constitution, will be a positive force for political stability and economic growth and an impediment to corruption. 

We, ordinary people, should continue expressing our dissatisfaction, so the king (ruler) would, as Chanakya has said, lose no time when the opportunity waited for arrives. The left alliance should seize the opportunity.

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