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Changing perspectives

May 11, 2018 10:07 AM Swasti Gautam

Sujeev Shakya’s previous book ‘Unleashing Nepal’ was able to delineate Nepal’s economic history and examine Nepal’s economic status in the global arena. ‘Unleashing Nepal’ was also a national bestseller that inspired many young readers to understand the present economic possibilities in Nepal. 

Shakya’s second book ‘Arthat Arthatantra’, his first in Nepali, is all set to be launched on May 12, 2018. In ‘Arthat Arthatantra’, Shakya analyses various aspects of Nepal’s economy and explains how the long and tumultuous political journey of Nepal has impacted its current financial trends. This book also aims to explain the complicated economic situation of Nepal in a simple and comprehensible language.  

According to Shakya, the cover of his new book that includes a ‘yomari’, a delicacy of the Newar community in Nepal, a cup of cappuccino, a mobile phone and earplugs is symbolic of the ‘New Nepal’. “We came up with this cover because this shows how our youths are influenced by the modern world while being deeply rooted in their traditions. This is the future of Nepal,” says Shakya whose journey in writing began as a columnist for a well-known weekly paper in Nepal. He currently chairs the Nepal Economic Forum and is a management consultant at Beed Management. Here Shakya talks about his new book, and also shares some valuable insights into the world of economics. 

An insight into his new book 

What was your motivation behind writing this book? 
I received my formal education in various countries abroad. When I finally came back to Nepal, it took me some time to grasp the common norms and notions prevalent here. I guess that is why I always had an outsider’s perspective on the mundane events that happened in Nepal.

My educational background also helped me realize that simple things such as hiked prices of commodities, large profit margins, love for owning or buying land in Nepal etc. had a lot of historical significance. So I decided to write my first book ‘Unleashing Nepal’. After getting an overwhelming response for my English book, I felt the need to write about Nepal’s economy, society, and history for the Nepali reading audience as well. 

You have said that your book is written in a layman’s language. What are some of the basic things you expect readers to take away Arthat Arthatantra?
Most of us living in Nepal have very little knowledge about our history. The history lessons that we had back in school were narrowed down to specific topics. We were never encouraged to do comparative studies placing Nepal’s historical context in a larger scale. So this book aims to make a neutral and nonbiased approach on Nepal’s economic and socio-political history. I have tried to write this book in an accessible language so that anyone who desires to learn about Nepal’s economic scenario can do so very easily. 

How is Arthat Arthatantra different from your first book Unleashing Nepal?
Since I wrote both the books, there will definitely be some similarities between them but ‘Arthat Arthatanra’ is not a literal translation of my English book ‘Unleashing Nepal’. My first book was written for the global audience. It could be read by anyone anywhere in the world. But ‘Arthat Arthatantra’ is written for Nepalis who already know a lot about Nepal. 

What challenges did you face while writing this book?
I have written a couple of columns in Nepali before but this is my first attempt in writing a Nepali book. The most difficult part about writing this book was to find references in Nepali. Most of the Nepali books that I read in the course of writing ‘Arthat Arthatantra’ referred to foreign authors. So it was challenging to find references and quotes of Nepali authors. 

Also finding easy to understand phrases for simple economic terms such as ‘globalization’ in Nepali was difficult. Despite these challenges, my passion for Nepali language and literature encouraged me to write this book. 

You have made a statement that “When it comes to self-improvement, Nepal’s private sector lags behind the government sector.” Could you please elaborate on that? 
Private sector is supposed to be the most agile of all sectors. But when you go back 20-25 years and look at the history of the private sector of Nepal, you will not notice much improvement as compared to the government sector. Surprisingly, our government sector, despite facing various challenges, has been able to adapt to new technologies. 

It is sad that the private sector of Nepal is not really interested in investing in new talents. Also, there is a constant desire to be a part of a political organization in the private sector that may do more harm than good. 

Do you think your book will help in changing the way people think about Nepali economy?
Change is a very difficult phenomenon to bring about. It is especially difficult because people continue to indulge in doing wrong things even when they know it is incorrect. But since ‘Arthat Arthatantra’ is in Nepali, I hope that people involved in politics, administration, and bureaucracy will read it and gain something from it. 

I know books are very powerful from my own personal experience. Over the years, many books have influenced and inspired me. I don’t expect my book to change people’s perception entirely but I do that hope my book will compel them to ask some important questions. 

You tend to travel very frequently. Do you think your frequent visits to different countries have influenced you as a writer?
I have always been a storyteller and a listener of stories as well. So traveling has taught me a lot. Before I went to Rwanda in Africa, I only perceived that place to be a conflict prone area. The place primarily reminded me of the genocide between Hutus and Tutsis. But after reaching there, I realized that even poor countries such as Rwanda could be extremely clean. And Nepalis could learn a lot from the Rwandans. 

My trip to Bhutan taught me how Nepal lost its forte of attracting high-end tourists. Then the economic transformation in Cambodia gave me hope. I learnt that it does not take 20-30 years for an economy to improve. It’s possible for us to build ourselves in five to 10 years. So different countries across the world have inspired and influenced me in different ways and I guess that is clearly reflected in my book.

On Shakya’s bookshelf 

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman

Friedman is a person who has inspired me throughout my life. He is a writer, a columnist for The New York Times and has great analytical skills. I love how his work is primarily based on his own research, travel, and reflections. He has used the title of this book as a metaphor for viewing the world as a competitive space for commerce and industries. I agree with him when he says that now it is possible for people to collaborate and compete from different corners of the planet on a more equal footing. 

Thank You for Being Late by Thomas L. Friedman

This is another amazing book written by Friedman where he attempts to explore the big shifts that are reshaping the world. What I like the most about this book is that Friedman writes it in a very optimistic note with wit and vitality. He explains to us how if we dare to be late in this fast moving world, we can re-imagine our work, politics, and community. 

India Unbound by Gurucharan Das 

This book gives an entirely new perspective on India’s economy. I feel I can relate a lot to Das because he writes from a practitioner’s standpoint rather than an academic one. It is also a very good book to understand how the economy of India has changed over the past 200 years.

Fixing Failed States by Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart 

This is a very interesting book about developing countries. I like the way he explains how some states don’t do well based on his own experience as the former finance minister of Afghanistan. His interesting take on the United Nation, World Bank, and IMF was what I was most intrigued by while reading this book. 

Global Inequality by Branko Milanovic 

Milanovic is one of the leading experts on global inequality and it was very interesting for me to read his new approach on the age of globalization. In this book, he mentions how the world has drastically changed over the past few decades. I find the central dilemma of this book very interesting where, on one hand, he applauds the rise of living standards of people living in India, China, and other developing countries. But, on the other hand, he also questions if it is fair for the middle and working class citizens in rich countries to pay the price of these ‘developments’. 

Expert speaks 

You have always said that Nepal’s dependence on foreign aid has a negative impact on our economy. How so?
Nepal has primarily been a rent seeking society. By rent seeking I mean that there is a section of our population that earns money without working. They simply depend on their ancestral property to seek rent or carry out their living. In such a society, according to me, foreign aid becomes another area to rent seek. It makes us more dependent which can have a multilayered impact on our economy. Substituting foreign aid with foreign investment is one way to solve this problem. 

Where do you think our foreign policy on economy is lacking?
I do not think we have a foreign policy related to economy. Our economic diplomacy has always been very poor. Also, our country has always had a begging bowl mindset where we are more concerned about what we can take rather than what we can give. 

What our government and diplomats need to realize is that Nepal is situated at a very crucial position. We lie between India and China so we have an amazing opportunity to grow. It is time that we strengthen our bilateral and multilateral relations through diplomacy and use economic factor to determine our foreign relations. 

What model do you think federal Nepal should adopt?
I feel federal Nepal will only work if there is trust between the federal level and the local structure. Federalism should also not be about distribution of money or resources but rather about creation of resources and wealth across the country. According to me, our federalism will function efficiently if we do not take federalism as a tool to make money flow from one place to another. 

Right now, we are at a very early stage of federalism and an important thing to keep in mind here is to not debate on whether this structure is wrong or right. It is written in our constitution and we all have to work together to make it happen. The alternatives to this structure will only be time consuming and will push Nepal backwards.

The per capita income of Nepal seems to be growing over the past 10 years. Does that mean that Nepal’s economy is doing well?
With a decade long observation, I can say that Nepalis now have better housing and better clothing. We can now afford better education and healthcare. There are very few people in our country who do not get to have at least one meal a day. Most of our citizens have something to cover themselves with in extreme cold. 

There is a lot of money that is being circulated in our economy. I would not say that our economy is doing well but it is definitely better that what it is perceived to be. 

How hopeful are you about Nepal’s economic future?
I’m always hopeful and I think Nepal will flourish economically in the coming years. If we have functioned this well in times of crisis, we definitely have a bright future ahead. Now with a somewhat stable government that seems to be making the right decisions, our country has the ability to grow. 

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