Review

New books explaining Nepal's condition
Written by Shashi PBB Malla

Lately a few books have been published that have direct or indirect bearing on the situation in Nepal. Most claim to be analytical.

The first, Ali Riaz and Subho Basu: "Paradise Lost? State Failure in Nepal," published in the USA and New Delhi in 2010 purports to examine state-society relationships and attempts to demonstrate that the nature of the state, the lack of connection between the state and society and "rupture of the ideological hegemony of the ruling class" have created a situation where existing frameworks are getting disjointed and the state is rapidly disintegrating. The authors, university professors in the States, analyze the roles of ethnicity, identity, and deprivation in fomenting discontent, and the rise of the Maoists as a political force. The book attempts to place these domestic developments in the context of Nepal's geo-political importance and the post 9/11 global world.

However, there are several weaknesses. It claims to be an empirical study, but is overtly dependent on secondary sources. Even here these are overwhelmingly from the West, ignoring, or not being aware of excellent studies by native Nepalese; among others by Saubhagya Shah ("Civil Society in Uncivil Places: Soft State and Regime Change in Nepal, 2008); Nishal Nath Pandey (Nepal's Maoist Movement and Implications for India and China, 2005). The paucity of primary sources is evidenced by not using Nepalese newspapers and journals - a must for such a study. The international dimension has been largely ignored, especially the primary role of India in the various political developments. The use of the "analytical tools" "patrimonial state", "state failure" and "hegemony" is questionable, since the very existence/non-existence of these concepts have to be explored first and not taken as given. The book writes of the "royal coups in 2001 and 2005"; in the first case it is nonsense; in the second, the royal take-over was overwhelmingly welcomed by the people; in fact King Gyanendra was pressurized by public opinion to take decisive action. It is, therefore, highly exaggerated to characterize the book as "an outstanding achievement in explaining current political developments in Nepal while placing them insightfully and concisely within a historical context." (Crispin Bates, University of Edinburgh).

The second book, Sujeev Shakya: "Unleashing Nepal. Past, Present and Future of the Economy," published in New Delhi by Penguin Books, in 2009. The author was educated in the United States, is a business executive and writes a weekly economic and financial column for a weekly newspaper in Kathmandu. As an active Nepalese commenting regularly on developments here, Shakya's insights are particularly important. Although restricted to the financial and economic sector, the book is, of course, written in the context of current developments, where many fundamental questions are being discussed and the drafters of the new constitution will be making crucial decisions.

Shakya examines the missed opportunities of the past, but also future possibilities, taking into account Nepal's rich cultural heritage, its enormous hydro-electric power potential, its geo-political position between the Asian giants, China and India, and its growing skilled youth workers. Thus, the first book is written from a pessimistic vein (and ignoring the vital economic sector), the second is quite optimistic (and writes about the economic sector as a motor of growth for all sectors). So to speak, the book shows us the light at the end of our current dark tunnel. The book should be made essential reading in the general list for all undergraduates in Nepal and is recommended for all concerned Nepalese and professionals. Shakya knows what he is talking about, and moreover he represents the 'nationalistic' Nepalese viewpoint.

Very appropriately, the celebrated Indian author, Gurcharan Das (The Difficulty of Being Good. On the Subtle Art of Dharma"), was all praise: "There could be no better time for Sujeev Shakya's inspiring book on Nepal." He has written that the founding fathers of the new republic will be making choices which will shape Nepal's future and should, therefore, read this book to steer them in creating institutions which could lead the nation from poverty to prosperity-a difficult but exciting enterprise. Nepal's development could have an impact on the whole of South Asia. Das, himself a former chief executive officer of an international company, also says that Nepal should draw lessons from the failure of the state in India: "Indians are painfully aware that they must reform their government bureaucracy, police and judiciary-institutions, paradoxically, they were so proud of a generation ago. Because the state in inefficient, millions of entrepreneurs have stepped into the vacuum." The lesson for Nepal was that it was easy to let institutions decay.

However, Das suspects that Nepal will have to find its own path in the end. Even, if its want to, it will not be able to adopt either the Indian or Chinese paths to development. In both countries, the economic success was a result of historical accident and luck too. Both countries were fortunate in having far-sighted leaders at the helm of affairs at the crucial time when making important decisions in the political and economic sectors. He recommends that Nepal learn from the successes and failures of its giant neighbours, and as Shakya suggests, hitch its economy to those of its fast-growing neighbours and reap the benefits of economic integration.

The third book does not deal with Nepal directly, but rather tangentially, S.D. Muni: India's Foreign Policy. The Democracy Dimension; published in New Delhi, 2009. Muni is a former professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and currently visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. The institute is an autonomous think-tank analyzing regional issues of economic, strategic and socio-political relevance. Muni's book studies India's responses to the challenge of democracy in other countries. He writes that these responses have been dictated and defined by its perceived vital strategic and political interests. He has briefly discussed the antecedents of India-Nepal relations in the context of democracy promotion from the time of the Indian freedom movement. Under the terms of the imperatives of the 'New Millennium', Muni is of the opinion that India had been following a 'twin pillar' policy in Nepal since the restoration of the multi-party system in 1990 - supporting constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy. This policy experienced strains with the beginning of the new millennium. He discusses developments until 2006, but, unfortunately, not the later vital ones.

[The above books are available at Mandala Book Point, Kantipath]

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