Q & A: Devendra Raj Panday
One of the "Aguas" of the civil society movement, DEVENDRA RAJ PANDAY, remembers Harka Gurung, explains the concept behind Citizen's Movement for Democracy and Peace, the intricacies of the peace process, and examines policy as well as the economy.
Devendra Raj Panday, 67, is one of the few public-spirited Nepalis in the country today. In his multi-faceted career, he has served as a civil servant in the government as well as held the finance minister’s position in the interim government formed after the political change of 1990. However, he is more recognized for his professional and public engagements, particularly for his leadership in setting up and building some of the significant civil society groups and initiatives such as Integrated Development Systems, Human Rights Organisation of Nepal, Nepal South Asia Centre (NESAC), Rural Self Reliance Development Centre during the 1980s and 1990s, and more recently Transparency International Nepal, and the pro-republican Citizen's Movement for Democracy and Peace (CMDP). He holds a Ph.D. in public and international affairs, awarded by the University of Pittsburgh, USA, for his dissertation entitled Nepal’s Central Planning Organization: An Analysis of its Effectiveness in an Inter-Organizational Environment (1969). As a concerned member of the civil society, currently he is keenly watching the delicate peace process; as he put it-- “too many things [are] happening -- and not happening-- in Nepal at present.” The following is the Q&A with Dr. Panday by Dharma N. Adhikari:
Let me start with the late Harka Gurung, your successor at the Transparency International. It was a horrible tragedy-- that helicopter crash in Taplejung that killed over 20 distinguished people. How would you describe Gurung's public life, career and the loss?
Nepal lost Harka Gurung at a time when he was needed most. The loss is truly irreparable. Harka was the foremost geographer and regional planner with interest in decentralized governance and regionally-balanced development. He would have been a great asset when the people of Nepal start working on the formation of the Constituent Assembly and the substance of the constitution itself. Now we only have his memory to inspire us in that direction. Harka was a great development strategist, too. I knew him first, when he was appointed member of the National Planning Commission (later its Vice-Chiar) by King Mahendra. King Birendra's conceptual division of the country in five development regions was Harka's idea – when I was a civil servant. This idea reflected his belief and commitment to rights and justice for all and equitable development of all parts and peoples of the country. When neglected for all these decades and years, the complex issue of equitable development got transformed into a more complex and potentially divisive issue about, among other things, the rights of ethnic "minorities" and indigenous groups and other excluded people.
As Harka voiced his emotions and ideas in this area, he became more vocal in his criticism of dominant ethnic and caste groups who he held responsible for the intolerable condition and lack of progress in the country. He was a true nationalist and a scholar of great merit, yet he was, at times, misunderstood by many of us. By attacking certain groups of people who have enjoyed the power and privilege of belonging to the ruling classes for centuries at the cost of the others, Harka was only expressing, in my view, his commitment to the advancement of the social and cultural and economic rights of the groups of people who were dominated for too long. Harka's real mission was the identity, pride, justice, fairness and equitable development for all the Nepalis. He was too much of a nationalist to wish to do or think anything that would come in the way of Nepal's integrated nationhood.
Can you update on the recent activities of the Citizen's Movement for Democracy and Peace? How representative is it? What is the secret of your apparent success in mobilizing so many people in this cause?
CMDP is not a structured civil society group with routine programmes and activities. The important thing, hopefully, is our commitment to democratic goals, which, in concrete terms, developed, in the course of the Janaandolan from Loktantra to now Loktantric Ganatantra. CMDP operates more or less on an ad hoc basis. We were lucky that we could make ourselves adequately recognized by democratic groups and ordinary citizens clamouring for peace by virtue of the outcome of our efforts from July 25, 2005. This hope for peace was rekindled by the 12-point agreement between the SPA and the CPN (Maoists). What we will do next on behalf of CMDP will also depend on how the peace talks proceed and what direction the political developments take. The new rounds of talks between the SPA and the Maoists have got underway seriously since Sunday, the 8 th of October. If these talks yield the results we wish for such as, conclusion of peace agreement etc, induction of the CPI (Maoist) in the interim government, announcement and actually holding of the elections for the constituent assembly and so on, we may revert back to playing a more "normal" role as citizens, careful only to see that our rights and opportunities are not violated. The CMDP itself, or at least, some of the "Aguas", as the press has been calling us might just wither away.
The first thing that needs to be noted about CMPD is that it is not an organization of any kind. We called it a movement precisely because we did not wish to get bogged down in an organizational setting with all its limitations and constraints. We could do this because our concern with the state had to do with our desire, together with that of the vast majority of the Nepali people to see the state power vested in bona fide representatives of the people under a properly constituted democratic political order where every Nepali has a stake and an opportunity for advancement. As a movement, CMDP represents ideas and interests that have to do with Loktantra and the transformation of the state and the society that the people are seeking, befitting the new age. The idea is to make sure that we not only have a democratic political order but also that no one has to feel excluded from it. We have to try and right the historical wrongs if we want to survive as a nation and prosper. The principal responsibility lies with political leadership. When it is challenged (like in October 2002, February 1, 2005 by king Gyanendra) or when it fails on its own, politically alert sections of the civil society that can truly remain independent of the state have to try to fill that void through peaceful democratic struggle.
Not everyone in the civil society agrees with what we think or do, nor are they expected to. We should note that the media often uses the term, Nagarik Samaj casually, without always understanding or thinking about what it really means. CMDP is not the only civil society agent active in the movement. There were and are others who freely pursue their own dreams. Some of the scenes in the dream may coincide with our dreams; some others may not. The difference with us is that somehow we became "famous", after we called for and successfully executed the Protest programme at Ratna Park on July 25 and carried on from there. With the "fame" (and the praise and abuses that come with it) we feel that our responsibility has also increased -- a difficult challenge for an "unorganized" group like CMDP.
Naturally, various interests are represented by various agents and institutions in the broader civil society. Many of these have been active and making positive contributions to the Nepali society for a long time. They include Nepal Bar Association, Nepal Federation of Journalists and numerous organizations in the human rights community. Hopefully, CMDP represents the aspirations of the people for democracy as well as change in order to make sure that democracy works for everybody, not just the politicians and educated classes who have little to lose even in a Social Darwinist setting. This change will hopefully manifest, first, in the restructuring of the state, which may also be transformed into a Republic, should the people so desire. Here again, we know that there are other elements in the civil society that too are interested in the same cause. Some times we work together; at other times, they have their own programmes and activities to which we express our solidarity.
In planning the activities of CMDP, interested people from civil society meet as necessary in a very informal setting. We discuss the political developments and the course they are taking and decide on the programme to be carried out next. The people who see the logic and the value of what we try to do and agree with the reasons why we call for their participation, join the programme when they can. We became successful and "popular" because ordinary citizens and groups of citizens saw value in what we were trying to do and trusted us. To understand the reasons for this success we have to go back to the course of events at least since Gyanendra's coup in February 1, 2005.
What is the idea behind the CMDP? How was it conceived? Are there any similar radical democratic movements elsewhere in the world or any historical parallels? How unique is your experiment?
The most unique thing that happened in Nepal during the movement is not us but the millions of people who came to the streets and highways for 19 days and surprised the world and made us proud.
Immediately after February 1, 2005, civil society institutions like Nepal Bar Association and the Nepal Federation of Journalists had launched their protests. The human rights organizations had done the same thing, bringing the dismal political and human rights situation of the country to the attention of sympathetic groups and communities in Nepal and abroad. At that time, I was in the US visiting my daughter and her family including a newly born grandson. I came back to Nepal at the end of the month, via Delhi where I met political and civil society leaders "in exile" and also the media people in Delhi. I could sense the momentum building against Gyanendra's regime that had little to offer even to the apolitical and well-to-do sections of the population who wanted only law and order and peace and their property. Krishna Pahadi was already in jail, to be released after five months or so. While protests by several civil society groups were continuing, some of us used to meet regularly to discuss ways and means of supporting the political parties in the andolan, fighting Gyanendra's regime, and bringing the Maoists and the political parties together in the interest of democracy and sustainable peace. For us sustainable peace always meant democracy with justice and participation and involvement of people of every social group and geographical regions in the affairs of the state and its administration.
To speak about myself, for several years before 2005, I had gone relatively quiet even in the debate about development and general political development etc in the country. The political parties had been an immense disappointment. Their political culture and especially, the lack of a sense of responsibility towards the people was not that different from the kings and other rulers in the panchayat days. The economy was slipping into a bad shape for reasons that the economists could do little about. And of course the bloody conflict initiated by the Maoist insurgency with unprecedented violence and large number of population killed/injured and/or displaced became a matter of great pain. All these things – democratic governance, development and the insurgency – are related issues. For a person with belief in democracy, but little influence with the political parties and their leadership, there was little to do, really. Gyanendra's encroachment against elected governments that started in October 2002 and climaxed in February 2005 changed every thing. It forced people like me to be active again.
Upon my return to Nepal, I renewed my contacts with colleagues who were already engaged in the protests in one way or another, and looked for ways to contribute to the process. Some us became quietly active (that is, we used to meet in small rooms for discussion) and began discussing how we could help the Andolan and also contribute to peace building by bringing the Maoists and the parliamentary parties together, if at all possible. Earlier, too, some of us used to meet like this, especially after October 2002 and before Gyanendra's coup in order to find ways and means of re-starting the dialogue between the political parties and the Maoists on the basis of some common understanding. When the political parties were not in favour of constituent assembly, we had made it a point of trying to convince some of the leaders to acknowledge the potential that was there to bring the Maoists to political mainstream by agreeing to the proposal of the constituent assembly and also contributing to political change that was absolutely necessary for Nepal's progress. The contradictions within the major political parties and the status quoist inclinations in important sections of the leadership had made our task very difficult. But we kept our pressure on, sometimes through memorandums and at other times by meeting the important leaders, when possible and necessary.
Anyway, after Gyanendra did what he did, our first self-given assignment was to try to bring the seven parties together. We must remember that two of the SPA parties were supporting Gyanendra's Asojtantra before February 1, 2005. There was a lot of acrimony then among the present SPA, not that they are fully united in their objectives and goals even now. And I am not saying that they became united only because of our efforts. With all the problems, the parties have some truly democratic leaders who would not take what Gyanendra did lying down, and even the top leadership that had many mistakes in the past had no choice but to come together and fight politically.
We supported the SPA's andolan and waited for it to gather momentum. But it was not happening. The people were not showing much enthusiasm. A person like me would get hurt especially when foreign observers would tell us that people were not coming to the street, the SPA had no support, which meant democracy had no support base in this "backward, traditional country". We also were not happy with the stance taken by important foreign powers, India and US for example, that kept talking about the need for twin pillars for Nepal's stability. For us it was impossible logically and politically to see how one could support democracy and Gynendra together. On most part, we felt that the leadership of the SPA, too, always had one eye fixed at the palace (for the so-called Melmilap) and the other at the Andolan. Their protests were meek. Our plan to wait and join them later in the street (like in 1990) once their Andolan picked up was becoming a non-starter. Just being buddhijibis and issuing statements would also irritate the people further. Meanwhile, and mercifully, Gyanendra was making one mistake after another, giving our morale a boost and forcing, as it were, sections of the SPA leadership to be more "revolutionary" than they would have been otherwise.
The fateful day came when on Sravan 4 2062 (19 July), the SPA called for a "parliamentary session" at the Royal Nepal Academy. When the MPs and leaders like Girija Prasad Koirala, Madhav Nepal and the whole lot assembled at the gate, they were not allowed in. After some perfunctory protests, the leaders went back home. I was there with a younger colleague watching the whole thing. It was a terribly disappointing experience, not so much because Gyanendra's gatekeepers did what they did but because of continued lack of any firm thinking or programmes on behalf of the SPA leadership.
Fortunately, we had one of our regular meetings called for that same afternoon at 3.30 pm. After some preliminary discussions – as usual – my younger colleague, Anil Bhattarai, proposed that we organize a Peoples' Conference for Peace and Democracy. I remember intervening and saying that let us forget about the conference part, and let us call it a movement – the citizens' movement – and go to the streets ourselves without waiting for the SPA "to inspire us." We discussed the possibility and the possible outcomes and threats for some time and agreed with the proposal and met again for the next two days to plan the activity. After being sent back home by the Royal Nepal Academy gatekeepers, the SPA leadership had announced that their next "Parliamentary Meet" would be on Sravan 11. We agreed that we should call for a protest on Sravan 10 at Ratna Park (the restricted area, that the SPA would not go to for protests) in order to reclaim the park and our country from the illegal regime. Our idea was that such activity would give a boost to the SPA on its Sravan 11 programme and thereafter.
After further discussion, it was agreed that an Appeal should be issued to the people to join us at Ratna Park. We drafted it, but until then we did not have a name or any such thing to identify us as a group. We gave the name Citizens' Movement for Democracy and Peace (Democracy came before Peace for us in order to have a lasting peace). Now, some one had to sign in the Appeal. Somebody suggested that Krishna Pahadi's name should be there together with mine. Another person suggested that the name of Dr. Mathura Shrestha should also be added. Everybody agreed. This is how CMDP came into being. Interestingly, at that time, Dr. Mathura was somewhere in Latin America. Nobody felt that Mathura’s consent was necessary; we all knew that Mathura would fight Gyanendra's regime tooth and nail. When the Appeal was to be issued, Krishna Pahadi, too, was in India, but he was involved in the discussion. And he arrived to be with all of us at Ratna Park on Sravan 10 (July 25, 2005). We were arrested that day and released the next morning.
After this event, we had several other programmes, the most important one being the Citizens' mass meeting at Baneswar where the top leaders of SPA, at our request, participated as members of the audience, while the citizens spoke "as leaders". This "citizens' meeting" with the clear cultural shift in the process of civic-political engagement got much publicity and spontaneous support of the people. It looked like people were just waiting for something like this to happen. "Civil societies" started popping up in districts. We got invited to participate in their programmes. The base for the nation-wide janandolan started firming up all over the country. The rest, as they say, is history.
The assumption behind any grassroots democracy is that popular voice should ultimately prevail (but not necessarily a rational public discourse). How do you look at the Nepali tension between elite pluralism and the emerging grassroots efforts that you seem to espouse? How far ahead are you in achieving your goal?
I can't really tell where we are, and where we are going in this respect though we are all aware of the difficult tasks that lie ahead for the political leadership that must address these voices and aspirations. In CMDP or in the andolan, I believe our course is rationalin its own way. But we are not engaged in a public discourse encompassing, in fine details, the various challenges that lie ahead. There are other civic bodies to handle this issue, including the very many NGOs, where some of our friends are not happy with us or with the way we conducted our movement.
What I know and believe in is this. Any public discourse at this time in Nepal in order to be rational has to hear the voice of the grassroots – the only voice that seems to care about the future. Here again, many NGOs have tried to make their contributions in this respect for many years and, indeed, decades. Only that the political classes have not been very attentive or responsible. This is also a reason some of us had to focus more of our attention to political change and political agitation.
One can't fight for democracy without believing that the people's voice will prevail. Peace is the number one priority at the grassroots, for obvious reasons. But the politically aware sections of the rural population have also understood that there is difference between Shanti and Deego Shanti. The latter will come only with stable democracy in which the first task is to go about state restructuring on the basis of a new constitution and to make room for social and economic policies in order address some of the failings of the past. The idea of state restructuring goes beyond the concern of what rightly you call elite pluralism. The demand for ethnic rights, language rights etc are very much home-grown -- at the grassroots level. State structuring is not what elitist sections normally talk about, even though every one should accept, in my view, that it is a system for conflict management in a democracy in a country with diverse peoples and interests. You are right, for this reason, too, state restructuring and other grassrooot-inspired agenda can become a source of tension even for the ongoing dialogue and the hoped-for agreement between the CPN (Maoists) and the SPA. It will be more so during the CA elections and the CA actually meets to work on the constitution. Even so, it is also important that the Maoists campaing fully expresses its commitment to "elite pluralism" as well. If and when that happens, it is our hope that the SPA and the Maoist can go to the people with a consensus on important aspects of the constitution to be drafted.
I would assume that what you call elite pluralism, in its classical form, has been severely damaged, as a possible political future for Nepal by the Maoist insurgency as well. The tension is there. We can see this in the extremely slow progress in the talks between the Maoists and the SPA and the continuing anxieties and concerns of many kinds. Together with the inspiration from the forces of status quo and other pro-palace elements, including the external forces, the SPA's complacency about the meaning and value of democracy, not to mention the interests in status quo in some sections, have become a big problem. In the end, the efforts and aspirations of the grassroots can be addressed only in a federal state where people at the "local" level can feel they own their destiny and have a right to identity and resources, even when their relation with the government at the national level is somewhat tenuous and distant. I must admit that here, too, elite pluralism manifests, at time, as an obstacle. In this view, for example, going for a federal state would mean inviting the disintegration of the Nepali nation. I do not agree.
Do you have any personal, political ambitions behind this seemingly a participatory democratic movement?
Krishna Pahadi and myself, among others, have said many times in national television channels, radio programmes, the print media and mass meetings that we will not accept any job or position of gainful employment in the government. Speaking for myself, in the last 36 years since 1980 – when I resigned from the civil service, I have been back in the government for a period of 13 months as the finance minister in the interim government. Except this post, I have not ever accepted even a membership in any committee set up by the government. Being an independent citizen, having democratic values and working with younger people, pro bono, is such a great thing.
I did test my talent as a politician in the early 1990s, when together with some friends I set up a new political party, Prajatantrik Lokdal. I failed miserably. I have no desire to try this all over again. In Nepal's traditional society, people think that a man or a woman can become a "thulo maanchhe", can have resource, power etc. only as a public official. On the other hand, I have experienced that with right goals and conduct one can have prestige as well as comfortable life as an independent citizen, too. Living in the US, you know more about this than I do.
I have also said it many times we are working hard in CMDP only in support of the enthusiasm and the potential that we see in younger generation for promoting democracy and development. There are young people, men and women, in our group who are making amazing contribution to CMDP programmes and the movement in general. Everyone is a self-recruited volunteer. Without the energy and commitment of this group of young and younger colleagues it would have been impossible for us to achieve what we did. The political leaders, too, need to understand that the country needs a new political culture and it can come only with younger people in positions of power – in the party and in the government.
Whether we finally succeed in the Loktantra movement or not, my own ambition now is to find a fellowship in some university abroad and do some reading and writing on democracy, development and, perhaps, corruption. (Maybe, you guys can do something about it!)
For years some have argued that Nepalis are essentially passive and fatalistic people. Others have said that the recent April uprising showed that Nepalis can be assertive and pro-active, too. Was it a genuine uprising, since there were reports of Maoists infiltration, and political leaders did not even participate in the protests….?
We have all read Dor Bahadur Bista's Fatalism and Development (1994). The problem is not so much about the people as about the system, social, cultural, political and economic, that can have a dampening effect on the opportunity that the ordinary people get for them to be excited about the dreams they might dream. Hopefully, we will be able to have or evolve the right system for us as a result of what we will achieve in this ongoing andolan together with the peace talks.
If the perception is that the political leaders did not participate in the "uprising", it is something for the SPA leadership to think about. I can only say that this may be a good area for research for interested observers and analysts. My own position is that it was the SPA that led the janaandolan and we only supported and participated in it. And no one can deny that there were many leaders from the SPA who did participate in the activities faithfully and made sacrifices like anybody else.
As for the Maoist "infiltration" we have to look at it in the correct perspective. One un-stated purpose of the 12-point understanding between the SPA and the Maoists in November 2005 was to draw the Maoists into the movement peacefully, that is, without their arms. If that is what happened, there is no room or need to complain by the SPA or anyone else who favours democracy and peace. This is not infiltration, but collaboration at the behest in most part of the SPA.
As for the participation of the general people which, I believe, is the core issue in the question it was a great experience, a great morale-boosting thing for all of us and, of course, an expression of genuine awareness and commitment to democracy. The people came and demonstrated their power the way they did for some simple reasons like follows.
First, as months and days wore off, it became harder and harder even for simple, apolitical people to find in Gyanendra's regime that there was anything in it for them. The negative things such as cronyism, obscurantism, looting of the treasury, lack of political sincerity (which upset Gyanendra's foreign friends, as well) and general suppression of human rights, piled up. Positive signs of anything good coming out of it, such as peace, law and order, economic development, price stability and relief of any kind for the have-nots were nowhere to be found.
Second, the 12-point understanding between the SPA and the Maoists gave a lot of hope and energy to the people.
Three, the agenda of state restructuring and the prospect of an inclusive state where the diverse aspirations and social and cultural rights of the diverse people would be recognized and addressed for the first time in the country were new attractions.
Four, with the urging of civil society members, including CMDP, the people slowly forgot and forgave the SPA for their acts of omissions and commissions during the 12 years of parliamentary rule.
Five, and most importantly, the people, including small and medium business people and ordinary farmers and household heads and housewives and house-husbands thought they would do all that is necessary this time, so that they would not have to have another andolan, and come to the street or suffer from more chakka jams, hartals, Nepal bandhs, pollution and filth from burning of rubber tyres and so on again and again.
There are reports that PM Girija Prasad Koirala is not happy with your movement because you are critical of political parties. You also have objected to PM's remarks on ceremonial monarchy. What precisely is your stance towards political parties, the Maoists and monarchy?
My own impression is different. Girija Prasad Koirala has seen the contribution of civil society groups from at least 1990. I believe he agrees with our objective and purpose and he has no problem with me personally either.
Political leaders everywhere, especially those who are in government, have love-hate relationship with active civil society members who do not mind expressing their dissent forcefully. PM Girija Prasad Koirala is no exception to this. And the prime minister is not the only person to view us with some mixed feelings. The top leaders and not-so-top leaders of all the seven parties, with some important exceptions, think about us and behave with us in the same way. The important thing is that all the top leaders are also fully aware of the role that CMDP played in the andolan. We only have to go back and look at the news reports of the SPA leaders attending the CMDP mass meeting at Baneswar in early August 2006. They also know the potential contribution we can make or are making in the peace talks.
The prime minister and other leaders also know that we are not critical of the parties for selfish or self-interested reasons. And it is not my perception that the PM or any SPA leader is as unhappy with us as may be the perception there. If we are critical, this is so only because we are and we have been with them for the full attainment of the goals of the andolan. They sometimes forget the goals because they are in the government. Sometimes, they forget that three months passed before another summit meeting was held between them and the Maoists. And sometimes, they also forget that the Maoists have been their partners in the andolan. And, above, all they might forget that they are leaders who derive their legitimacy from the andolan, not any fresh election, and that they cannot continue in power for ever without facing the political reality. Some political leaders and even some of our civil society colleagues have criticised us, accusing us of being too close to the Maoists. This, of course, is nonsense. We can't help it if our insistence of constituent assembly elections as soon as possible is perceived as a Maoist demand. But ultimately the SPA leadership will have to agree to this too. And we can't help it when it is our assessment and sincere belief that the SPA and Maoists must continue working together and hold constituent assembly elections together by forming an interim government, and not prolong the transition period for too long. We are too aware what happened after 1951 when king Tribhuvan had conceded the constituent assembly.
The CMDP's position is that as long as monarchy remains in the country, democracy will never be institutionalised, power will never be decentralised, the army will never be democratised and Nepal will never be free from the shackles of feudalism, obscurantism, and other cultural and social structures and relations that are the principal hurdles to development of the country. We want a Republic with all the values of liberal democracy but also a commitment to social equality and justice for all. We want a republic where we have a culture of equality, a culture of hard work, and a culture of fairness to fellow citizens irrespective of gender, caste, ethnicity, blue blood, or whatever. In a competitive democracy, different parties will go to the people with different policies and programmes. And the people will ultimately decide. But we have a right to expect what we think is good for the country, just as others have a right to disagree with us.
As for the Maoists, true to the commitment they have made in the 12-point understand, they have to accept pluralism, multiparty system, competitive politics, universal human rights and so on as an expression of their commitment to joining the democratic political process peacefully. During the course of the peace talks, they have to agree to do away with their army and arms by integrating them with the state army in tandem with the progress in talks on political settlement about their participation in interim government, the elections of the constituent assembly, drafting of the new constitution and so on. At the same time, we do not wish to see them as just another party in the pack, with all the weaknesses observed during the twelve years of parliamentary rule.
Ultimately, my utopian hope is that with the Maoists and the old parties, the SPA, competing for power democratically, we will have a process where we can hope for democracy that guarantees not only political freedom and elected governments but also equitable society where the people can expect to live in dignity with jobs, livelihoods, health security, opportunity for education and so on. We know from experience that left to the SPA, this – a very difficult challenge for a developing country, in any case -- will not happen unless drastic changes take place in their structures and cultures, with younger people with vision coming to leadership positions.
When exactly did you begin to embrace the concept of Lokatantrik Ganatantra (Democratic Republic)? Is the country truly headed for such a republic? Have you ever doubted that such a system is the right answer for Nepal? As the Indian experience shows, a republican set-up does not guarantee peace, prosperity and national unity. Actually, it could eventually lead to sectarian and separatist movements.
I am not sure that everyone in the US likes the Republic they have got. I also know that it took a long time for the US to build the Republic that they have now – the labours of the likes of Jefferson and others not withstanding. Even now the US democracy is not really "Poorna". There are all kinds of problems with it. The corruption of the political process and the role of money and influence-buying are known all over the world. And there are increasing social problems. In spite of all this, no one in the US, would want to see a George III come back to rule the country. The Indians too may not be happy with the Republic they have got, but I have not heard any one asking for the return of Queen Victoria or any king/queen for that matter.
I myself was first a civil servant in Panchayat, a system with absolute monarchy. Then I became a constitutional monarchist. After all, among other things, I am legally and morally responsible for the 1990 constitution. I started having doubts in my own mind about the value of monarchy after the Palace massacre in June 2001. I became a Republican in the course of the Janandolan. I have come a long way and I call it progress at the personal level.
How do you view the alliance between the seven parties and the Maoists? There are already reports of schisms between the parties and the Maoists. How long do you think their unity will hold? Do you think the Maoists will really disarm, abandon violence join the mainstream? How do you assess the peace process right now?
I believe I have answered this question as parts of my answers to some of the previous questions. (Also please refer to my email exchanges in nepaldemocracy group). The schism can be great, as I have experienced in communication with the Nepaldemocracy group, even among ourselves. The talks are not going anywhere. There is the natural impression that the Maoists and the SPA differ fundamentally on arms management. But they differ in other areas as well like monarchy, the roal of the army, the restructuring the state and so on. To me, the critical point is that the SPA and to a lesser extent the Maoists are monolithic units. There are many forces at play within them. Hopefully, the force of the people who want democracy, justice and peace will win at the end of the day.
External intervention, especially from India and USA, is increasing in Nepali affairs. How do you view the role of the international community, including the UN, in solving the impasse in the country? What can the civil society do in that regards?
The United Nations is the most favoured international party here. My view, too, is that the UN is the most credible and legitimate international partner to facilitate the process of arms management and peace and democracy building.
Unfortunately, India has been given a prominent role in our internal political affairs from 1951. Nearly all the political players in Nepal from the kings to democrats and communists have contributed to this. China's role has been generally more correct. But its policy is usually inclined towards supporting monarchy at all costs, at least until recently. The current role of the US as manifested in the frequent public uttering by its Ambassador to Nepal is guided by its general fear of communist take over in Nepal as in any other country – an unfortunate hangover from the cold war years. In my view, this has not been helpful to the peace process at all. In democracy, one needs to have faith in the peole, not any foreign power. Unfortunately, that has not been our history.
However, it must also be said that the role and concern of the international community in defending democracy and human rights of the people of Nepal according to the international human rights law and principles is critical. If it were not for the concern many important friends of Nepal, including the US expressed against Gyanendra's coup and violation of human rights, our struggle against the king would have been more difficult.
As we look ahead, how we manage our relations with important friends abroad becomes a critical question. Quite certainly, India will again press for agreements on harnessing the water resources and may also bring up the question of security etc, given especially the unquestionable reality that India is subjected to terrorist threat comparable to any other country. We need new leadership, new vision to tackle such situations too. The culture that the Maoists eventually bring and promote becomes critical from this standpoint too.
In Nepal, on water, there will be at least three views. One view will come from the side of the environmentalists and pro-grassroots groups who will argue against building big dams, no matter what. Then, there are ultra-nationalists who will oppose any kind of agreement with India. The third view will be that making safeguards for interest of the nation and of the "local owners" of the resources within the nation, water needs to be used as a valuable resource. When the Maoists join the government, whether now or later, it will be interesting to see how they proceed. Another challenge – for the Maoists and all of us – is what to do with foreign aid and what to do without it? The mobilization and use of foreign aid cannot go on like in the past – for the benefit of limited sections of the population, including some very, very large pockets. And changing the system as is operates is quite a task. At this time, I can only say: Let's see.
Now a few questions about economy and policy. We often hear this in public discourse: Nepalis are rich people of a poor nation. Others argue: Nepalis are poor people of a rich nation. As an economist, which of these clichés do you find plausible and why?
Some sections of the Nepali population have gone filthy rich in the last few decades. But generally our people are not rich, nor is the nation. We have our share of feudal households and other rent-seekers. But they are not a resource. In addition, wWe are not a highly resource-endowed country. Our only resource – generally wasted so far – is water. We have no minerals; agricultural land is getting more scarce, and a large section of our educated and skilled human resources is settled abroad. Most importantly, socially and psychologically, we are much less resourceful people than we were in the past. And the more resourceful people everywhere in the developing world prefer to go and work abroad in any case.
The economy is now sustained by the remittances received from our brothers and sisters who have gone abroad for work from generally poor households. With political will and commitment and a proper vision about the course of development we should follow, we can nevertheless galvanise whatever resources we have to do better than what we have done in the past.
One irony – and this may need further research – is that most of the Nepali households that are considered rich have become so not from any productive work, adding to the productive wealth of the country. Apart from whatever remains of the feudal economy and rents, the modern rich are those who have been able to harvest the first round benefits of foreign aid (mostly, also as rents), non-performing bank loans and some such dubious practices and sources. And of course, corruption has contributed a great deal to the enrichment of the political class and some top-level bureaucrats. The professional class has benefited greatly from foreign aid. One exception may be the emergence of the upwardly mobile younger people trained in IT, computer science, banking and so on who are contributing to the country's development together with their own personal income enhancement.
Another cliché is that Globalization has brought about a paradigm shift in world economy. In his much-publicized book, The World is Flat, Thomas Freidman argues that globalization is no longer a unidirectional phenomenon; richer and powerful countries dominating poorer and less powerful countries. And India, our neighbour to the South, is often cited as a case study of that success. The recent issue of Foreign Affairs is also upbeat on the Indian economy and its rising power status. Are we paying any heed to the developments to our regional giants like India and China? What lessons can we and should we learn from these booming economies? What can we learn from China that we cannot learn from India?
I am afraid I can't do justice to this important question at this time in this Q & A forum, especially since I am not sure whether I am fully equipped intellectually to elaborate issues in this area even if the setting and timing was right for me. It has been some time since I have done serious thinking on such subjects, though I hope to get back to them soon enough. One thing I know is that I don't see any paradigm shift with globalisation. It is the same paradigm of capitalistic development, with its well-knownusual strengths and weaknesses. In recent decades, this ideology presented itself, first, in the name of liberalisation and then it graduated semantically and conceptually to be called globalisation. Let us also not forget that the campaign against globalisation is an equally global phenomenon, in terms of the quality of voice if not in material intensity. I just can't see that the historically and socially oppressed people of Nepal, left behind by the ruling society and the past ten five year plans, will derive benefits they have missed so far from, say, the "globalised" system of production, especially when the architecture of global governance is weak.
Let me say here that I am an incorrigible social democrat, with the caveat that the social democracy of the 21st century has little do with classical socialism defined in terns of the ownership of the means of production and some such thing like the direct involvement of the state in production and distribution of economic goods and services. To me, human rationality is much more than economic rationality, which is supposed to guide the personal utility-maximizing individuals.
I am all for individual rights and freedom and the human desire to pursue wealth. But an individual does not stand in the air. She or he is a part of the society, with mutual obligations that have to be respected. Besides, economically efficient production is not always efficient in environmental, social and human terms. With all the potential and achievements of globalisation, it is also the fact that poverty remains a problem not only in the developing countries, including countries like India and China, but also in such leaders of the globalisation process as the USA. I have not seen the Foreign Affairs article. But I have read Friedman's book. He has some good points especially to show how a section of the young people in poor countries is economically benefiting from the "flat world". What is critical to the future of international development however is not how globalisation makes some sections of the population rich through mutual exchanges, but whether the whole country becomes developed with every section of the population feeling secure in terms of income and employment, social security, educational opportunities, health care etc.
I wish, with or without globalisation, the west and its economists and social scientists would find some new wisdom and policies, such that globalisation would mean expansion, not shrinking, of what we have earlier seen as the welfare state. If US can't afford to look after the welfare, including health care, of its needy people, I naturally wonder about China and India even if they were to achieve great success in some areas of their economies.
China and India have had such different histories. Nehru's socialism unfortunately did little to address even the fundamental sources of poverty and exploitation. There was little or no land reform; feudal cultural relations were kept in tact; and despite Gandhi the harijans and other oppressed people, especially in north India have even now social and economic positions worse than in the nineteenth century US where the Afro-Americans (then known as "Negroes") were not citizens to enjoy their rights, only slaves to serve the rich people in plantations and elsewhere.
For Nepal, why worry about following the path of India or China or anybody else? Why not try to see if we can really follow the "utopian path" and find an "ideology" for ourselves so that we can show how freedom and equality, individual liberty and social responsibility, efficiency and justice can all go together with some trade-offs as necessary? This is where the entry of the CPN (Maoists) in the mainstream politics may provide us a fresh opening. If the Maoists agree to be a part of liberal democratic framework, politically, and keep some of their socialist policies and programmes, economically and socially, we may have a situation where there will be some genuine political competition among political parties. In the course of the competition, the ideology of one will certainly rub off on another. If this happens, we may hear a bit of more of the social democratic ideology in one form or another than we have for a long time. Actually this is what the propertied classes fear, and also hope, perhaps that they can make the Maoists transformed into a "regular" SPA-like party.
Even the flat world has to go round and round, however. With so much conflicts and growing threats of terrorism, violence and wars, and the waiting environmental disasters around the world, we have to think anew about the future of human civilisation. One way to secure it is to try reinventing the old values – the values of humanity, community and so on – and make it work for nearly everyone in the 21 st century.
What do you say about the uneasy tension between politics and policy in Nepal's corridors of power? How does our polity and bureaucracy compare with others in terms of professionalism, competence and ethics? You have led the Nepal branch of Transparency International. How would you deal with such inducements and instances of corruption?
The tension is not unique to Nepal. After all politics is about policy and vice versa. It is such tension that makes democracy work, and times, gives a lot of pain in the neck to technocrats in organisations such as the World Bank. Some times it works in a special way, and works positively. In India, for example, the government is following the policy of globalisation, if, indeed, that is what it is doing (I wonder because, I do not know how can feudalism that is very much there in India, even among the Sa'abs and Babus of Delhi go together with globalisation), despite pressures from its ally in the government, the CPI (M). If the government's economic policy affects CPI (M)'s politics adversely, it is also true that CPI (M) politics affects the government's policy positively, in social terms. In the end, hopefully, the people of India will benefit.
In Nepal, there is one special source of tension arising from the country's over-dependence on foreign aid. I have written about this contradiction before. In short, the government like in every democracy has to be accountable to its domestic constituency, the voters or the people in general. However, in economic and social policies which are what matter most to the people, the aid-dependent government becomes guided by and accountable to its external constituency, the donors, led by the World Bank. Here the people suffer.
As for competence and ethics, there has been a great decline in the last decade or so. But this is just a subjective judgment. I have not done any research. About inducements, I value and see the value of economic incentives like any other mortal. But I am also a great believer in the notion of non-pecuniary self-interest. We have to find ways and means of motivating people that are not based only on economic incentives. The nation is more than a market.
What new thinking and direction should our leaders uphold during this critical juncture in our history? Even India's conservative policies have seen major changes. Indian leadership and planners—long known to be adhering to the Gandhian and the Nehruvian socialism preaching austerity— have made a monumental shift to consumerist economy, and have propelled massive growth in their service sector, for example. As an expert in public policy issues, what is your advice to the new generation of Nepali leaders and planners?
I believe I have touched on this a bit in answer to earlier questions. In crude terms, we were liberal in our economic policies long before India had even thought about it. Our tariffs were so low that for decades the policy provided opportunities for rent-seekers to collect rent through cross border trade and other dubious mechanisms. We never had a public sector as big as India's. At the end of the day, the purpose of any economic policy is to serve the interests of the people, including the investors, of course. If we think that the people do not matter, it is immaterial whether the government's policy looks more conservative or liberal on paper.
Our problem, as we have practised liberal democratic politics from 1990 is that our leaders follow neither capitalism nor socialism, neither Nehru nor Gandhi – nor Adam Smith, for that matter. They have had no vision and do not even know that they do not have one. (Maybe, things would have been different if BP Koirala was able to continue running his government in the 1960s without the interruption engineered by Mahendra or if Madan Bhandari's life was not terminated abruptly). Apart from their own personal and cultural weaknesses, the dependence on foreign aid, already, stated has also contributed to this situation. There is usually no room for the political leaders to think of alternatives and develop competing visions when you know that in the end you have to follow the policies the donors prescribe.
As for consumerism and the growth of the so-called service sector, Nepal is not doing so badly. The problem, in this case, is that by "Nepal" may have to mean Kathmandu and a couple of other big towns in the country.
Finally, how do you visualize Nepal 20 years from now, in terms of the societal changes?
As a young adult, I grew up hearing and exchanging visions of Nepal as the "Switzerland of Asia". This dream lasted until I was in my early 30s. Then the balloon started bursting. It would be nice to have this vision resurrected again and to do something to make it happen.
As you can see, on a topic like this, I can think only with my heart, not my head. Thinking with my heart, in 20 years from now Nepal could really be one of the most beautiful countries, physically and socially, with her diverse people living in harmony protecting their identities and cultures and making economic and social progress collectively as a nation everyone could can be proud of. As a sovereign country living between two economic and demographic giants in the world Nepal would have set an example of how to manage and develop a diverse country with people having different religions, languages, ethnicity, political geography, and so on.
For the plenty of tourists coming to Nepal, Nepal would offer a rich menu of diversegeography, topography, peoples, cultures and heritages – living and ancient. Our achievements if we can make it would look huge especially given the challenge of poverty and under-development that would be daunting for any people.
Children would be going to schools, not fighting wars and getting caught in any other kind of conflicts. Women would not suffer the injustices that shame every one of us. No one would die for lack of medicine or simple health care. There would still be some poverty and we would still have a long way to go to become a Switzerland, if we really wanted to be like that country. But no one would dare treat fellow citizens with injustice and contempt as we currently do the poor, the under-privileged, the dalits, the physically disabled and others.
If we can manage this, we would have restored our national honour and also retrieved faith and confidence in ourselves. Our neighbours and other members of the international community would be supportive in what we do, but we would not be dependent on them for our survival and security. Unlike today, Nepal and the Nepalis would command respect all over the world, as they travel or reside where they wish.
Posted by Editor on October 14, 2006 2:05 AM