Some festive musings

Published On: November 11, 2018 01:00 AM NPT By: Devendra Gautam

There are instances of Nepali leaders signing controversial deal for petty political gains and successive generations of Nepalis paying a heavy price in return 

The Gorkhali grit. Yours truly feels one needs it to stay put with your sanity intact in this land of great upheavals even as events, many of them beyond our individual and collective comprehension, keep unfolding all the time in this kingdom turned into fiefdom of nefarious forces of different hues and colors. Let him start with some of the recent events that hogged the limelight, not necessarily on the basis of their importance.  

The train arrives

In the afternoon of October 10, a freight train carrying around 5,000 tons of ballast arrived in the Nepali township of Janakpur from Jaynagar of Bihar through the Janakpur-Jaynagar broad-gauge railway track amid a warm welcome from local people. This was the first test run of the first broad gauge railway in Nepal, expected to come into operation by mid-December this year, according to media reports. 

Besides this project, plans are afoot to develop Jaynagar-Bijalpura-Bardibas and Jogbani-Biratnagar rail links on priority basis, thereby strengthening further our jargon-laden ‘ages-old, people-to-people relations’ with our dear neighbor. Apparently, the 22 trade points along our border with the southern neighbor are not enough to strengthen our Roti-Beti ties that often turn bitter with constant encroachment upon our border through unilateral construction of flood regulatory structures, high-elevation roads in blatant violation of international practices and land grabs that often occur with tacit support from security apparatuses, giving an impression as if this ill-prepared country currently spread barely on 1,47,181 sq km at least on paper—there are reports that more than 60,000 hectares of this chunk is with Nepal on its original maps only—was at war with its giant neighbor down south. 

As if this connectivity were not enough, plans are afoot to develop cross-border waterways with that country. 

Up north, there are plans to increase road connectivity with China. One wonders if Nepal has become a global manufacturing giant overnight, needing roads, waterways, rail and air links to export surplus goods to giant neighbors. Granted that the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, the land of eight-thousanders, the land of Janak and Sita, the abode of the Yogis, the ultimate whitewater rafting destination and a thousand other attractions, is a popular tourist destination, but have we become overnight the world’s top tourist destination needing vital connectivity infra of all sorts to bring in millions of tourists from the neighborhood and beyond? 

Not exactly.

So, why does this country with open border need increased interconnectivity at a time when it is already reeling under a huge trade imbalance and unchecked inflow of millions of people of all sorts, including refugees from the extended volatile neighborhood, through open border, when it is already hosting refugees from a dozen-odd countries and when around 1,500 youths are heading abroad daily in search of jobs? Why do we need increased connectivity when smuggling of raw construction materials like sand and boulders and timber across the southern border is causing massive environmental degradation in the Chure and other parts of the country, when our country regularly figures in the neighborly media as a purported ‘hideout’ for criminal and terrorist elements that perpetrated one or the other attack in nerve centers of the neighbor with ‘historic and unique relations’, when even the champions of globalization and liberalization are increasingly jittery about increased interconnectivity and have started taking it as a national security threat, when the global superpower is seeking to build a wall along the Mexico border and when Great Britain is opting for Brexit to secure its territories from elements with ulterior motives? 

Is it because our visionary political leadership is only seeing opportunities and not threats in increased interconnectivity? It will be wise to go for a serious and honest SWOT—strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—analysis before opening up further to the neighborhood and the world beyond. 

Extraordinary rendition?

Around Dashain, the co-chair of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, Prachanda, went on a very short visit to India, to take part in some function that a think-tank was organizing, while an Indian leftist leader, who has played crucial roles in Nepal’s political transition for better or worse, arrived here to take part in a program of a foundation established in the name of a torchbearer of the Nepali communist movement, Pushpa Lal. 

Such visits are okay as long as they do not harm our national interests. But there have been numerous instances of Nepali leaders signing one or the other controversial deal for petty political gains and successive generations of Nepalis paying a heavy price in return. 

It’s time our leaders took the country into confidence before committing anything, whether verbal or in writing, to dear neighbor and other foreign friends. It’s time our politicos also involved Foreign Ministry officials in any such meeting so as to let the country know what transpired during such exchanges. For political leaders, it’s always better and wiser to not hop onto any flight that reminds them of some extraordinary rendition, for a thousand issues await their attention at home. 

Turbulence ahead

Lastly, a media report states that our Defense Minister landed, all of a sudden, into a cricket pitch at Bara on an army chopper by causing abrupt stoppage of an ongoing cricket match, thereby damaging the pitch and delaying a school-level cricket tournament, which was to select national-level players, for about a week. It does not appear to be a case of emergency landing. Rather, the report points that local leaders of the ruling party forced the organizers to wrap up the match early to enable the chopper carrying the minister on the way to primarily attend a tea reception—the report also quotes an aide as saying that the minister was also visiting the district to inspect a Nepal Army jungle warfare training—to land there, even when landing facilities were available nearby. 

Needless to say, PR disasters like this one are not what this government, which appears to be surviving on a wing and a prayer despite a two-third majority in the Parliament, needs, especially when its popular rating does not appear to be soaring. 

Nonetheless, it’s not Mayday yet, neither is this super-plane on autopilot. But it’s time the captain fastened his seat belt and navigated carefully anticipating turbulence ahead.  Bon voyage!

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