Murari Sharma: Selection of state capitals has not been wise

The government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has announced the temporary state capitals for Nepal’s newly created seven provinces, which are yet to be given their specific names. The decision has stirred protests in some of those cities that were also aspiring to the privilege. As people, should we be worked up against the selection?

For now, Biratnagar will be the capital of State 1, Janakpur for State 2, Hetauda for State 3, Pokhara for State 4, Butwal for State 5, Surkhet for State 6, and Dhangadhi for State 7. Dhankuta, Dharan and Itahari were competing with Biratnagar, Birgunj with Janakpur, Bhaktapur with Hetauda,  Dang with Butwal, and Doti with Dhangadhi. The protests have erupted in those places which were left out in this decision, barring in State 3. While politicians who rooted for the left-out cities are up in arms, political pundits have also joined the fray.

Some political pundits, like Krishna Khanal, have suggested that the squabble over the temporary state capitals of the newly federalized Nepal should not be a subject of fierce emotional outpour. Prima facie, it is true that temporary state capitals might be just temporary and not worth fighting against. It might also be true that if you already live in a privileged area or have enough resources to overcome the geographical distances, the issue is not worth crying over.

But for most other people, the location of state capitals matters. The state capital will bring investment, business opportunities, employment, good schools and hospitals, good transportation links, access to power, political influence, and so on. Besides, the temporary capitals may prove permanent in most situations because the people in these places would not easily abandon the privilege once they have achieved. Changing the status quo would bring even a bigger turmoil. So let us look at whether the selection of the temporary capitals has been wise.

A host of factors — political and non-political — needs to be considered while making such a momentous determination. The Deuba government, which is now in a minority and on its way out, could not garner support from the left alliance, the winner of the recent general elections. Besides, it seems that it did not give enough thought to some of the important of non-political elements essential for this important decision. They include the availability of transportation links, including air links, communication facilities, room to grow further, central location,  water supply, and security, mainly external.

Let me dwell on these elements specifically her. From the point of transportation links, the seven state capitals have been well thought out. They all have good roads linking to them to Kathmandu and to the provinces they will serve. Except for Hetauda, other places have air links as well. All seven state capitals have had good communication links, if not the best ones, within their respective regions. They all have room to grow into bigger cities as well.

In terms of the centrality of location, the decision is a mixed bag. While you cannot quibble much about Janakpur, Pokhara, and Surkhet, other places do leave much to be desired. Biratnagar, Hetauda, Butwal, and Dhangadhi are nowhere near the center of the respective provinces.

In addition, life needs water to sustain, and no wonder why most large cities are located near a river or sea. Unfortunately, except for Pokhara, no other temporary state capital is near a large body of water. While selecting permanent capitals for the states, we need to make sure that the source of water is within a manageable distance.

From the external security point of view, Makwanpur, Pokhara, and Surkhet are fine. They are far from neighboring countries, and this distance will shield them from the external threat of a quick aggression. But Biratnagar, Butwal, and Dhangadhi will be vulnerable to external threats as well as an internal criminal threat.

In the past, Indian police have come all the way to Kathmandu and other places in the name of a hot pursuit of criminals. Biratnagar, Butwal, and Dhangadhi will be under the direct range of fire for Indian security officials. If Seoul with 10 million people were not just 35 miles away from its border, South Korea could afford to be much tougher with its northern neighbor. Sure, in Europe, some capitals — for instance, Bratislava — are not far from their international borders, but the continent is not as volatile as the Asian continent where Nepal lies.

Among the various requirements for the ideal state capital, security must stand at the top. The reason is simple. You cannot change your geography but you can change all other elements through investment. For instance, India established New Delhi and the United States established the Washington DC, and both countries built the infrastructure to sustain their federal capitals.  In other words, Biratnagar, Janakpur, Butwal, and Dhangadhi should not be made permanent state capitals at all. They are too close to the border.

Among the candidate cities in State 1, Dhankuta has no airport and its land transport link is also tenuous. Itahari is ideal for transport links at the crossroads of the East-West Highway and North-South Highway but it is closer to the Indian border than Dharan.  Dharan has no room to grow without destroying the forest at its feet. But at any rate, Biratnagar should not be the permanent state capital unless we want Patna to be our de facto state capital.

From the security point of view as well as connectivity, Bardibas will be the ideal place for the capital of State 2. It is much farther than Janakpur from the border and is at the crossroad of the East-West Highway as well as Kathmandu-Bardibas Road. Besides, a new international airport is being considered in Nijgadh, which will be within a reasonable distance from Bardibas. Birgunj will be even closer than Biratnagar from the Indian border.

Hetauda needs a sizeable airport to become a permanent capital of State 3. Some heads of state and government visiting Nepal would want to visit state capitals as well, and we must have an airport that can handle much bigger planes than the Pilatus Porter, Twin Otters, and other small aircraft. For State 4, Tuslipur will be a better place than Butwal from the security point of view as well as from its relatively central location. Its airport should be extended for better air connectivity.

For State 7, Dhangadhi is too close to the border to feel secure and not centrally located for the province. But Doti is not a good substitute for Dhangadhi. Doti’s airport cannot handle big aircraft and is not a regional air link hub. State 7’s capital should be established anywhere north of the Eas-West Highway. Attaria could be considered as a possible choice, for instance.

While the Deuba government might have been under pressure to pave the way for provincial set up to start functioning and to choose places for state capitals that already have had some infrastructure, the decision should be treated as a stop-gap measure only. The new federal government and provincial governments must give serious attention to the elements that should be taken into account before making decisions on permanent state capitals.

While other countries are marching ahead on a long trajectory of political evolution and economic growth, Nepal has remained behind because we always go for the short-term political expediency rather than long-term vision. Our decision should be transformational: We should do what we want to be 10 or 20 years down the road, not cling to the status quo and expediency while deciding our permanent state capitals and our future. So the squabble over the state capitals is necessary to arrive at a rational decision.




Murari Sharma: Who should we fear most?

Last night, I woke up from a nightmare, frightened. Bombs were blasted in my area, and the fire was burning at several places. When a missile headed my way, I woke up in a fright. I was soaking with sweat, and my mouth was dry. Now I have been wondering whether such a scenario is possible for real.

Let me start with the causes of nightmares. According to the National Health Service of Britain, stress, trauma, mental health conditions, and some types of medicines, like antidepressants, cause adult nightmares. Since I do not have mental health issues and do not take antidepressants, the sources of my nightmare are stress and trauma, as most other adults.

Evidently, we live in stressful conditions and complex societies, often visited by traumatic experiences. We worry about our close ones’ and our health, finances, reputation, job, and progress; sometimes, disasters, accidents, wars, and so on also visit us. As human beings, we also worry about communities and nations at large. My personal and family issues are not serious enough to cause me nightmares.

I have been worried about volatile Nepal, Nepal’s neighbors, the burning Middle East, and the simmering war of words between North Korea and the United States.

Though they may not be imminent, my worries are not impossible. As we know, the world has not always washed in hope and enlightenment, in positive progress of science and technology, and in the optimistic and teachings of great saints like Rama, Buddha, Christ, and Mohammad. It has also witnessed the annihilation of peoples and civilizations, creation and use of devastating weapons of mass destruction, and rise of rascals like Hitler, Mussolini, and others like them.

Similarly, both at national and individual levels, we have witnessed the acts of kindness as well as of brutality and predation. For instance, many wealthy countries have been generously contributing to the growth and development of their less fortunate counterparts. To help the poor and dispossessed amongst themselves and halfway across the world, many in those countries have been contributing whatever they can. At the same time, we cannot forget the horrible exploitation by slave-owning nations, colonizers, aggressors, raiders, robbers, looters, and thieves.

Who should we worry most about?

In a rough and ready manner, I put people into four groups: Saint saints, Saint satans, Satan saints, and Satan satans.  Saint saints are those who mostly live for others and to help others, like Buddha, Jesus, and Gandhi. Satan satans live for themselves, such as murders, robbers, and hardcore criminals. Evidently, both Saint saints and Satan satans are a few. Therefore, the vast majority belong to the other two groups: Saint satans and Satan saints.

The Saint satans are those who start out as honest, pious, and charitable but give in to the baser instincts — enriching and empowering themselves by hook or crook while hurting others — as they proceed. Satan saints are those who start with baser instincts but wear the patina of higher value to win trust, fame, and office. Often difficult to distinguish, the majority of politicians, bureaucrats, priests, non-governmentwallahs, journalists, businessmen, and so on, belong to one of these two groups.

How much positive and negative contributions they make depends on how capable they are and what role and how much remit they acquire. Those with limited role and remit do limited good or damage and those who have wide role and remit do the opposite. The source of my nightmare has been these two groups of people at the national and broader levels. We should watch politicians most since they take the driving seat of society.

Before an election, most politicians go to their voters as their humble servants and promise to them the sun and moon. Once they are elected, they treat their voters like trash, pick their pockets, and plunder the country with two hands to enrich themselves, stay in power, and reward their relatives and bribers until the next election. If it serves their interest, these leaders take the country to war.

At the regional level, I have been worried about the politicians in India and China. They have been our frenemies. More out of self-interest than of charity, they have been helping us as a neighbor and friend. At the same time, Nepal has suffered two wars each with these countries and three crippling economic blockades from India since 1969 and sermons to find a modus vivendi with India from China. If Nepal were to work seriously against their self-interest, these neighbors would not hesitate to punish it and its people.

At the broader level, I have been worried about those Western countries and their priests that have been sowing the seeds for the clash between civilizations by supporting or carrying out the aggressive proselytization of the vulnerable Nepali people. Though it looks innocuous now, the seeds will germinate and trigger a war of attrition until Western religions dominate our country or fracture it.

I have also been worried about the Middle East, the source of energy for much of the world, going on between Isreal and Palestine and between the Shias and Sunnies in Yemen, Syria, and other places, where Sunnis are killing Shias and vice versa.

Above all, I have been worried about the war of words between the United States and North Korea, which may escalate into a nuclear exchange. Presidents Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un both have threatened to start a nuclear war and claimed that their fingers are on the nuclear button. Since I have never met any of them, I have no personal opinion about them, but what I have read about them makes me jitter.

The casual remarks made by several knowledgeable people apart, the assessment of 27 psychologists and Michael Wolff in his Fire and Fury, have presented a frightening picture of Trump. Kim’s killing his own relatives in a fury and starving his people while he pursues nuclear ambition have told his chilling story as well.  In other words, both Trump and Kim are whimsical, impatient bullies, if not maniacs. What if they turn out to be Saint satans or Satan saints and do push their nuclear buttons?

The half of humanity might get killed, making World War II’s 60 million casualties like a drop in the ocean of mass killing. World War II killed mostly those people whose countries were involved in it directly or indirectly, but a nuclear exchange between the United States and North Korea could end up killing, maiming, or causing deadly diseases in the entire world. Unless you live on Antarctica, you could not feel safe. We have not seen too many Saint saints trying to diffuse this growing crisis.

This time, unlike in the past, the killings would not be distant. The casualties may include you and me, our relatives, or both.  Therefore, I have my nightmare. I hope my nightmare is a mundane incident that happens occasionally with all. Otherwise, all of us need to worry about the gathering threats, seriously.