Each new year gives us an opportunity to introspect and look ahead. In Nepal, we get multiple such opportunities every year. As we get ready to welcome Bikram Sambat 2074, there is cautious optimism, as Nepal stands at the crossroads of choice; we can either accelerate economic growth and improve livelihoods, or we can squander this opportunity, like we did with our peace dividends.
The numbers are right
It was refreshing to read the recently released reports of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In a country where most reports are focused on issues like washing hands and inauguration of defecation free zones, very little information on the pulse of the economy emerges. After a long time, we are seeing a potential 5 to 6 percent GDP growth, along with a surge in the informal economy. The public’s increased demand for stocks has resulted in a surge in the money collected for IPO/FPO’s, as well as a greater volume in the capital market. Reaching the $30 billion GDP mark in 2020 looks possible now. This means that the government revenues can be closer to $10 billion and expenditure can be in the $15 billion range by 2020. In terms of capital formation, this means that the transactions in the secondary market can touch $4 billion a year, making it possible to raise as much as $1 billion from the local market.
While the numbers look promising, we need people with global mindsets including an appreciation of the fragile ecology, aesthetics, etiquette and ethical practices, and that prioritises delivering the best products at the best prices. But the ugly structures at Kathmandu’s airport and the manual handling of baggage do not give the impression that Nepal wants global standards. We have more educated people and more money than we did 20 years ago, but our minds are still in the 1950s.
Sunset days of transition
By the end of 2074, three tiers of elections should take place. A transition has to eventually come to an end, much like any other contract or agreement. Pushed by business syndicates, political parties have been able to create a cartel and reap super profits in the name of transition. This will have to end and we will have to move to a democratic system with an opposition, instead of one in which various permutations and combinations of political parties govern.
Local elections will pave the way for a new generation of leaders, replacing the old ones with children who are managing businesses obtained because of political connections or who are settled abroad. With parties pushing for sunset dates
for active politicians to be pegged at 70 or 75 years of age, the current crop of status-quoists will give way to a younger breed of leaders.
This also means that if this democratic system does not work, then the alternative of an autocratic rule, with increased involvement of the Nepal Army, will become mainstream. This will drag the institutions that have stayed away from active politics into the political fray.
The good news is that we will either go the way of South Korea or North Korea; we will not prolong the present mess.
In a recent conference on South Asia in New Delhi, I was pleasantly surprised by two things: that the old Nepal hands were not there, and that the conference passed without Nepal being referred to as a breeding ground for ISI activities and a source of fake currency bills. It was refreshing to see young people keen to learn about regional connectivity. The Indian bureaucracy is learning to listen to think tanks instead of Nepali politicians whom they have bestowed political favours upon. Following the blockade, India has shown an inclination towards revitalising bilateral relations. India has also been pushed to the brink by China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative. The OBOR and the financial muscle behind it look like a strong strategic push and India’s choice is clear; it can either be proactive or reactive.
India realises that sending a few dancing troupes to Nepal each year, and photo-ops of ambulances being handed out and schools being inaugurated will not foster people to people contact that is behind the fundamentals of any bilateral relationship. India’s change of gear on the Look East policy was distinctly visible in the handling of the Bangladeshi prime minister’s visit to Delhi last week. This change will only benefit Nepal. Nepali leaders, on the other hand, rather than making anti-India posturing the core of their nationalism, need to think of new ways to take advantage of India’s economic growth. Prime Minister Dahal’s recent visit to China showed that there is no China policy to speak of. Nepal needs to work on formulating a China policy as well as an India policy, and the age-old mantra of equidistance needs a quiet burial.
The course of a nation’s journey is like that of a person’s journey; there are moments of opportunity that come knocking. Year 2074 looks like one of them; I hope we will not squander it.