For those of us who lived in a country that reeled under a blockade when it was just recovering from a devastating earthquake, news of a nation being obstructed by another takes us down the memory lane. That Qatar, a country with probably the highest per capita income in the world, can be blockaded makes you realise that economic power cannot perhaps avert blockades. Further, as has been the case in this world for many centuries, territorial supremacy continues to dominate politics despite all the innovation that has taken place to make the world so connected.
While we wonder what our folks at the Ministry of External Affairs are thinking, the situation in Qatar is undeniably a wake-up call for Nepal. Hopefully, like previous disagreements in the Gulf, this one will also be resolved soon, but in the meantime, it provides us with an opportunity to think of multiple scenarios.
What if the situation deteriorates? What does this mean for the 400,000 Nepali workers in Qatar? Who is responsible for their lives? How capable is the Embassy of Nepal in Doha to deal with possible complications? How will the Ministry of Foreign Affairs handle the queries of these people? Where will the Embassy keep them? Who will feed them? Who will provide healthcare and counselling services?
In a society where rumours are manufactured at regular intervals, what if rumours start going viral? If people in Nepal could cause so much destruction by being influenced by a rumour of what Bollywood actor Hritik Roshan “said” during the pre-social media days, how will they react to the viral rumours that could make it to social media platforms? How will the government develop a communication channel that people can trust? The prognosis becomes especially alarming, considering that its performance in disseminating information during the earthquake was dismal. What will the politicians do? Organise a banda against the plight of the people? Or will they do something constructive to bring Nepali workers home? Many questions come to one’s mind.
If Nepal even manages to lease Airbus 330s or Boeing 777s, evacuation of all Nepalis in Qatar would require about more than a 1,000 flights. How long will this evacuation procedure last given the limited number of flights that the Tribhuvan International Airport can handle? Will be they be flown into Delhi and Mumbai instead? The cost of these flights will run into millions. Who will bear this cost? The government has to look into the issue of evacuation and discuss with insurance companies the need to cover risks of evacuation for migrant workers leaving Qatar.
Perhaps government revenue or grants from Nepal’s friendly nations could foot the evacuation bill, but the prospect of hundreds of thousands of people coming back into the country makes us think about other complications as well. As thought leader Hari Sharma shares, there will be a social upheaval. Initially, family members will be nice to the people returning, but then will come the realisation that the income source has dried up and the expenses are increasing. This will start creating multiple problems. When the insurgency ended in 2006, having around 100,000 Maoist supporters in the Valley created mayhem. Now imagine an additional 400,000 people in the Valley, with a limited number of jobs that can absorb them.
The social upheaval will be followed by a political upheaval, as our political parties start to woo returnees for their support, promising everything from free land, jobs and other perks. But making promises and not delivering on them has been a trait of South Asian political forces. The memories of the communist parties in West Bengal relying on refugees from Bangladesh for their support are still fresh. Communist parties have been best at utilising such opportunities, and our socialist Nepali Congress will also surely force returnees to join the band wagon in the name of equity. So we should be ready for processions, rallies, occupation of open spaces and disruption of day-to-day life.
Nepal has just reached the end of a long transition and is recovering from an earthquake and a blockade. Globalisation entails that an event in one part of the world has a large impact on another, completely different part of the world. The financial markets and businesses in Nepal have stayed insulated from global events due to the strong nexus between political and business cartels; they are still inward looking and closed. However, this event in Qatar cannot be ignored by Nepal. The economic costs of the mayhem of 400,000 people being air-lifted back to Nepal and their presence in the country cannot be estimated now, but it will result in inflation and another economic slowdown, halting the growth story that has just kick-started.
We can all hope that this situation in Qatar deescalates, with its rich cousins deciding to come to an agreement, but this event also provides a wake-up call for Nepal to think about the plight of its people who are sending money back home while working under harsh conditions in multiple destinations. The government has done little to help them apart from selling passports at high costs and allowing international airlines to operate in Nepal. All interventions in terms of regulations—forming of rules, appointment of Ambassadors to these countries, etc—have been shameful to a large extent. Hopefully, a task force can be formed that will at least recommend a plan of action for the government. Life is unpredictable, but planning can always bring about some predictability. Big lesson for Nepal!