There was a time many years ago during Rana rule and later Panchayat days when the authorities in Nepal felt that the country should be able to stand on its own legs. The story of the Jute Mill of Biratnagar is ingrained in the history of democracy in Nepal. Though trade with our Northern neighbour Tibet existed during the British rule of India, it was curtailed by the Imperial rulers. They, looking to their own interests did not allow Nepal to import in excess and expand industries so that it became a threat to them. Then during days of Panchayat Rule the industries gifted by China and Russia, such as the Agriculture implements, Sugar, Cigarettes, Paper, Leather and Brick & Tile factories served the Nation with their various products. But the world was changing and the Nepali Congress, a firm advocate of International Socialism of Willy Brandt days came to power in Nepal. It quickly shed its skin, like the proverbial snake to take up the ideals of capitalism. And why should it not do so when even Communist China with the prodding of Deng Xiao Ping did this change as an urgent necessity and a must in this modern world? Whilst Nepali Congress is still a member of the Socialist International hierarchy, it is mandatory to note and heap blame on that party for selling off all the functioning industries and the machinery at throw away prices. A classical ploy was a functioning Boeing Jet, which after landing at an airport in Germany suddenly became unworthy, could not take off again and sold off! It is perhaps for such far sighted thinking and action that Nepali financial thinkers are being lauded the world over. The result of all this is that we are at the mercy of our Southern neighbour who has engineered a blockade for the third time to stifle us poor Nepalis, many of whom still continue to serve them as soldiers, seasonal croppers, bhanches, durwans or in more concrete terms as Bahadurs and Kanchas. Even our Western friends are silent as they probably do not want to upset India, a major trading partner.
Many years ago a certain concern named Enron Corporation had come to Eastern Nepal with visions of transporting cement by helicopters to build a big dam that would solve all our load-shedding problems. Our politicians were very happy and vocal in their support. A few Nepali experts however insisted that we should not put all our eggs in one basket and that it would be more rational to build many small hydroelectric projects located in different parts of the country. Time has shown that this was totally correct, for Enron Corporation much to the disappointment of our politicians who had backed them to the hilt, fell by the wayside. But we Nepalis neither learnt nor profited by all this. Hydroelectric licences are presently held by concerns which are not interested in building but rather in selling it to some ‘sucker’ at a profit. The projects which should have been completed and functioning by now, were delayed initially by locals rightfully demanding their rights. Once these were sorted out it was the actions of unions of major parties which are to blame for delays in construction and our present energy crisis. Political parties of different colours are all involved in a game of one up man ship to advertise their strengths and extract what they can!
The recent blockade by India, whether official or not, has demonstrated to all Nepalis that it is time to think anew. We are in a world that has become very small and so we need go beyond the ‘Bhai, Bhai’ concept with our Southern neighbour only. Contact and trade should be with anyone who has goodwill for the Nepalis, irrespective of where they are located on the globe. The way to do this is to open up all possible trade routes with our neighbour in the North and ask also for an outlet to the sea at say Guangzhou (Canton). After the goods for Nepal are brought there from anywhere in the world, these can then be sent overland by train to Lhasa and then by road to Khasa. The alternative route from Guangzhou would be by train to Shigatse and then by truck to Kerung. Besides the Calcutta and Mumbai ports which India has offered to us we should in fact take steps to utilise the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong. Our right as a land locked country does entitle us to use this although there is a ‘chicken neck’ gap of some kilometres between their border and ours.
Last but not least is of course air transport from anywhere in the world. I can remember a time when Nepali carpets were going out from here via Lufthansa and through them via Aeroflot to different parts of the world. Even during the course of this last blockade medicines were flown in via Bangkok and Bangladesh. What Nepal now needs is diversification of its trade so that we are not just dependent on India for our needs. Besides TIA at Kathmandu, airports at Pokhara and Bhairahawa which are in the process of being upgraded should be further expanded so that they can handle bigger planes and much more cargo. With the above mentioned steps, we in Nepal can diversify our trade so that we are no longer just dependent on our Southern neighbour. There should be self sufficiency for our day to day needs too. I vaguely recall the words of Raj Kapoor who sang in Awara, ‘Mera Joota hai Japani, Pataloon Englishtani, Seer pe Lal Topi Russi, Phir bhi Dil hai Hindustani’. We should do a similar jingle get a Nepali Tara of ours to sing ‘Mero topi cha Dhakali, labeda cha Tibbati, suruwal cha Jodhpuri, jutta cha Belaiti tarra sachchai huun Nepali.
The author writes fiction under the name of Mani Dixit. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd