With the exception of Mt. Everest, Nepal has very little that the mainstream media finds newsworthy. You cannot really blame the Western media though — this small land-locked country of South Asia does not get much coverage in regional Asian presses either. Naturally, anything that is hidden from the eye tends to acquire a sense of enigma over a period of time, and the Nepalese nation has done just that. Enigmatic or not, such seclusion comes at a price: most of the time, progress tends to slow down, and in this article, I shall attempt to analyze the state of Nepal and its current situation.
But before that, let me ask you: think of Nepal, and what comes to your mind first? Alright, probably Mt. Everest again! And? A small-ish country that has somehow managed to defy most of the colonial powers in the past? Apparently, this very small country, in spite of its brave history, seems to be heading towards a downward spiral. So, what exactly is happening in Nepal? Multiple things, to be honest. But since we live in a world that defines and assesses your worth on the basis of your wallet, I will begin with the economy.
The Nepalese economy has the potential to see its own share of high tides. However, states do not simply emerge as economic powers, especially when surrounded by ever evolving economies both in the north and south. The truth is, anything that Nepal seems to do in terms of economics, India and China have managed to do better.
In fact, the stagnant economy was one of the key aspects of the manifesto of the revolution that toppled the monarchy in Nepal and transformed the erstwhile Himalayan Kingdom into a Republic. Yet, the conditions have not changed. Or at least they have not changed for the better. The primary flaw of the Nepalese economy has been the rampant corruption, which has crippled the entire homespun economic model. Economists will cite multiple reasons for this: lack of a capitalist and privatization model, excessive state interference in the growth model, little foreign trade, untapped natural resources, and so on. But at the end of the day, if you are seeking reasons for the dismal state of Nepalese economy, you do not need to look so far.
Truth is, the monarchy has been replaced by a government that is not, by any means, stable. Political instability is the mother of economic fluctuation. Add to this fact that a land-locked country in a mountainous region does not have the best opportunities in terms of infrastructure, and you have all the recipes for economic disasters. In spite of it all the Nepalese economy has proven to be resilient enough: even during the last days of the monarchy, Nepal managed to retain the homespun characteristic of its economies. Furthermore, on paper, the record is not so bad: as of 2012, out of 37 state-owned enterprises, 21 are operating with decent profit margins. In reality, if anything, Nepalese economy is marred more by the disparity in income and poverty, as well as by cultural issues.
With a decent growth in population and education, Nepal is going through a transitionary phase. For a good number of years, Nepal was the world’s only Hindu kingdom. After the elimination of the monarchy, a series of laws were passed to uplift the status of women and the outcasts, especially during and after the year 2005. However, centuries-old traditions cannot be reversed.
This is where Nepal seems to be staggering: with rapid modernization and urbanization becoming the norm all around the world, the Nepalese society is finding is extremely difficult to cope with the changing trends. The outcome is anyone’s guess: crime rate rises, poverty increases, gender disparity deepens, discontentment sets in. Nepal is situated between two big regional powers, China and India. For many years, Nepal and India have acted as each other’s de facto allies and enacted treaties that allowed citizens of one country to travel to another sans a visa. As a matter of fact, back in the day, Hindu right-wingers in India always loved Nepal as the world’s only Hindu kingdom.
However, after the elimination of the Nepalese monarch, things have started to change. Today, Nepal seems to be trying to balance its position vis-à-vis India and China. The current regime has visible left-wing tendencies, and it receives its share of sympathy and affection from China. Naturally, India does not like the Chinese advances towards its age-old friend.
The current regime in Nepal has its own internal challenges to face. Hardline Communists have denounced the current leadership, citing deviance from ideology as a reason. Establishing secularism in a country that has not really seen religious tolerance, fighting corruption, keeping the monarchy loyalists at bay, improving the infrastructure, balancing judiciary, legislature and military powers — enough tasks for a lifetime!
Nepal currently ranks fourth on the list of countries that are vulnerable due to climate change. Sadly, the majority of the Nepalese people do not understand or grasp this fact; as a result, environment-damaging practices continue unaffected and unhindered. But, every cloud has a silver lining. Amidst all this, the efforts of the government to eliminate economic and religious problems may have been thwarted as of now, but a proper political setup has, at least, ensured that Nepal as a country realizes bigger issues such as climate change, and the need for regional peace and prosperity.
Thus far, Nepal has done a good task of balancing its relations with India and China, and also has made significant advances in terms of electricity management. Progress has not been easy for Nepal, and could be even more difficult over the next few decades. The outcome remains to be seen.