Murari Sharma: How Could Left Unity Affect Us?

Prime Minister KP Oli said that the united communist party will be like a jet aircraft that has tow pilots, not an auto rickshaw with a single driver. It was his response to a question related to two leaders co-chairing the merged Communist Party of Nepal. This left unity might lift or ruin our lives, depending on what the new, powerful party chooses to do in the days ahead.

The Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) have merged on 17 May 2018 to for the new party. Until the next party convention, the new party will have Mr Oli and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal will be co-chairs.

Communists of Nepal have earned a well-established reputation that they are better at splitting, rather than uniting. The Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), established in 1949, splintered into nearly a dozen and a half parties in the later years. Their mergers have proved less enduring than their splits.

One of the few enduring mergers has been between the CPN (Marxist) and the CPN (Marxist-Leninist) and the CPN (United Marxist-Leninist). Even though the CPN (UML) broke over the Mahakali Treaty with India, the splinter groups came together after a disastrous defeat in the general election. What will be the fate of the newly minted CPN without any adjective, when it has a two-thirds majority in the upper house?

It is hard to say for sure at this point because I don’t have a crucible to the future. No one has for that matter. Therefore, the only way to guess would be to look at the cases elsewhere. There are two examples in our own region: China and West Bengal.

Even though one might be tempted to use the example of China, it does not exactly fit our situation. China is still an authoritarian one-party-state politically, though economically it has embraced capitalism. Therefore, West Bengal is a more appropriate example here, because both Nepal and West Bengal have communist party rule in democratic societies with competitive politics.

Under the communist rule that started in 1977, West Bengal launched a series of land reform and promoted labor militancy. As a result, lost its economic ground considerably. According to Prof. Subba Iyer, West Bengal’s contribution to India’s GDP went down from 7.2 percent in 1980/81 to 6.1 percent in 2000-01 and per capita income from 1.02 times to 0.96 times.  The share of manufacturing slipped from 21 percent to 13 percent.  Infrastructure also suffered under communist rule, while there was some gain in poverty reduction, though less than Tamil Nadu. 

Communist leaders in democratic countries make populist land reform and labor militancy as their first port of call — a quick fix to please the poor and win the election. While land reform and workers’ rights are important to reduce poverty and promote justice, too much of them stifles growth and makes everyone poorer by hollowing out the economy. in the long run. If Nepali leaders also pursue this quick fix, Nepal will suffer the same fate as West Bengal, making Nepal and the Nepali people poorer. 

However, if the left government delivers on what it has promised, Nepal could be a blossoming country in next 10 years.  The promises have indeed been tall. As Prime Minister Oli has pronounced that Nepal will double its per capita income in 10 years, remove the blackout and tuin (single-rope river crossing), and rail connection to Kathmandu from India and China in five years, to name a few.

Policies and pronouncements often come up cheap, while their implementation is expensive and complicated. It requires strategic thinking, commitment, hard work, and perseverance for a prolonged period from government and people and sustained support from development partners. And external assistance depends largely on how major donors perceive the communist government.

India is not pleased with the communist government, even though Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to sooth the wound he had given to Nepal with his undeclared economic blockade in 2015/16 in support of the disagreement with the new constitution shown in the parts of the Terai plains. While India needs to work to slow down the Chinese inroads and continue to engage, Western countries are under skeptical about the Nepali communists’ commitment to democracy.

In this situation, the question now is whether PM Oli and his colleagues follow the path of West Bengal under the Marxists or do something more creative to ensure that the Nepali economy and society avoid the stagnation suffered by the Bengalis. Because the recently unified CPN commands a nearly two-thirds majority in the federal parliament, on the party will depend on the fate of Nepal for the next few years. 

The co-chairmanship of CPN will come with its own additional conflicts and perils. I hope it will be as short as possible and as little damaging as possible.


Murari Sharma: Modi’s Nepal Visit

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.