October 27, 2015 Sujeev Shakya

The Long View

Bangalore or Bengaluru, the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, was referred to as a city of retirees in the 70s and 80s as it had a cosmopolitan feel to it along with good weather throughout the year. It was only in the 1980s, after technology firms along with educational institutions began opening up, that Bangalore became the destination for the young who wanted to have futuristic careers. In the 80s, when I was studying in Kolkata, young people who were sick and tired of its Left politics, frequent closures and the prospects of a bleak future moved in hordes to Bangalore forming the foundation of knowledge workers. Over the last two decades, as India became synonymous with businesses in information, communication and technology, Bangalore transformed itself and today, it is referred to as the Silicon Valley of India. More roads are being built in the city and it is served by a world class international airport that is perhaps the best maintained airport in India. Infrastructure development has taken place at a rapid pace and as the mass transit systems are being developed, the city is likely to expand beyond the suburbs that were just villages about a decade ago.

It is important to build a global outlook and value system that will encourage talented Nepalis working abroad to return home due to better opportunities

Not Working

I never tire of comparing Kathmandu with Kolkata, where rent seeking politics and crony capitalism—earlier under the patronage of the royal families and later under the patronage of political leaders—continued to throttle world class growth. In Kolkata, it was the unions that destroyed education and industry, not much different from today’s Kathmandu. I remember one of my college professors telling me three decades ago how good students would never aspire to become student union leaders and good workers would never want to get entangled in organizational politics.

Thousands of workers leave Nepal not just because the grass is greener on the other side, but because they cannot be productive in the country. For instance, a well-trained Nepali lawyer is frustrated by the state of the judiciary as her skills and knowledge is of no use here. The ways in which cases are settled in Nepal can be completely different from what she has learnt. Similarly, an accountant or a financial analyst trained to work in a professional setting following global standards could lose one’s mind when others in the profession spend more time in the politics of professional associations rather than augmenting and upgrading their caliber to global standards. No wonder cities like Bangalore have become home to thousands of Nepali knowledge workers who do not want to get entangled in places where politically driven and inward looking protectionism is rampant.

Absence of Integrity

The democratisation of corruption that began with the reestablishment of democracy in the 1990s has made it more lucrative for people to spend time aiming for political positions and seeking rent rather than entrepreneurial pursuits. And why not, if the state ensures life long benefits to even those who have been convicted and served jail sentences? The erosion of social values has meant that people no longer feel humiliated when their names and photographs appear in newspapers as loan defaulters. And there is neither any rejection of people who are charged for corruption nor is help available for innocent people who are framed.

I met a Nepali professional living in the US for the past 15 years who had come for a family event in Kathmandu. He was disgusted that two former tainted ministers who had served jail terms were invited for the family event though they were not related. The question he had was that, in his quest to return to Nepal permanently, how would he explain such a value system to his kids who have been born and raised in the US?

The same goes with the discourse on citizenship. The unequal citizenship provisions in the constitution for women is more to do with how the upper caste Nepali male chauvinists view the issue clouded by political instincts than value judgment. What will happen to the property of people who only have daughters and no sons if their children marry non-Nepali nationals? Many continue to argue that women are seeking their rights both as daughters and daughter-in-laws. It is so heartening, therefore, to have these discussions in cosmopolitan cities like Bangalore where women express their pride in a city that is so different than North Indian cities, particularly with regards to people’s attitude towards women.


Geographical Reality

Much has been talked about how Nepal has been influenced by the neighboring states of India. One can only wonder what Nepal could have been if it bordered Indian states like Karnataka. In the 1950s, the intertwining of religion, state and politics in Varanasi along with the emphasis on local language, caste supremacy and conservatism influenced Nepali politics. Then the Naxalite movement in Bengal in 1970s influenced the violence based anti-establishment tirade to grow into 10 years of Maoist insurgency in Nepal. The Left Front coalition politics and the constantly changing partners-in-bed equation in the politics of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh shaped Nepal’s post 1990 politics. There is nothing much we can do about geography and the current situation could not be a better reflection of this reality. The problem is how Nepalis, especially those at the helm of politics in Kathmandu, continue to think Nepal and Kathmandu are synonymous on the issue of building a state that is inclusive in the real sense. Simultaneously, it is also important to build a global outlook and value system that will encourage talented Nepalis working abroad to return home due to better opportunities and not for the sake of nationalism. The starting point could be that people who are obsessed of speaking to the media and watching themselves on media just spend some hours watching the National Geographic and Discovery channels to see how the rest of the world is building infrastructure and nations.

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