The Vital Issue in Nepal

King Birendra shares with the Communists a common belief that economics occupies the center of Nepal's problem. I do not mean by this statement that he is a communist and believes in the doctrine of the economic interpretation of history. I only mean to say that the King in the interest of his own authoritarian rule has come to share this doctrine espoused by the Communists, who on their part derive their own ideas from outside and not from the Nepalese reality or their own experience. On behalf of the King the argument of self-interest is understandable. The doctrine of economics suits the King well. Naturally he would not like his people to be conscious about political ideas. For, it would erode his absolute monopoly over political power. But how does this doctrine serve the Communists appears to be a riddle.

On several occasions, we discussed with the Communists [in Nepal] in order to thrash out our differences and evolve a common approach to various problems confronting Nepal. We found the unbridgeable gulf that separates us is their doctrine of economics. I told them that Nepal's problem was essentially political and that the economic issues were primary, and the political ones only secondary. I put forward a proposal for their consideration. I suggested that they should draw up an economic program and economic objectives and I was ready to put my signature, declaring my adherence to them. They in turn should permit me to prepare a political program and its goal and both parties-the Nepali Congress and the Communists should adhere to them. I argued that since I considered economic issues to be of little consequence in the present Nepalese context, I would without hesitation, put my signature jointly with them on their document setting forth the economic program or economic goals, or a plan for new economic relationships.

I stand for land reforms. After all, who is not? Even the king is. I am for social justice. I am also for the end of economic exploitation. There are two tests for any economic plan-one, whether it promotes economic growth; two, whether it promotes social justice. Whether we call it an economic revolution or transformation, but they constitute the real test for the success of an economic plan. Economic revolution is not a sudden affair, it is a long process.

The Communists readily agreed to my proposal and asked me to formulate concretely my political objectives. I said 'Democracy'.

I explained that democracy meant the sovereignty of the people. It should both in theory and practice be vested in the people. The state should derive its authority from the will of the people. If this is accepted, the people must have the right to elect their own Government. The people therefor should have a real choice, to elect among various political parties and individuals. They must have the freedom of organization, freedom of speech and civil liberties. This will naturally lead to a multi-party system in the country.

Even when confronted with facts of Nepalese life and the logic of the Nepalese situation, the Communist obstinately continue to advance their theory or supremacy of economics over politics. Lately, the present dictatorial government has started picking up individual Communists and putting them in jail, not because the King felt embarrassed by their doctrine of economics, but they have begun to challenge his political authority. The vital issue of Nepal today is, whether the King should have the unlimited political power, or it should belong to the people. If the King is not challenged, the Communists, or for that matter anybody is free to propagate his economic theories and economic plans in the country.

The Communists agreed to all the above essential ingredients of democracy, except the last one, namely a multi-party system. If this is accepted as an essential ingredient of democracy it would entail by implication the denial of the Communists system already established in various countries. My proposal was not accepted by them. This revealed clearly that the vital issue today in Nepal is strictly political.
Even when confronted with facts of Nepalese life and the logic of the Nepalese situation, the Communist obstinately continue to advance their theory or supremacy of economics over politics. Lately, the present dictatorial government has started picking up individual Communists and putting them in jail, not because the King felt embarrassed by their doctrine of economics, but they have begun to challenge his political authority. The vital issue of Nepal today is, whether the King should have the unlimited political power, or it should belong to the people. If the King is not challenged, the Communists, or for that matter anybody is free to propagate his economic theories and economic plans in the country.

This is exactly what the King wants. He always emphasizes that Nepal's current problems are economic and that those who raise political issues are ill-motivated and anti-national. He has given the slogan of "economic development" and has been emphasizing on suitable economic plans to raise the GNP and the material standard of the people. In the face of the obvious fact of Nepal's appalling poverty, there is a validity in his economic slogan. When the stomach is empty, the first effort should naturally be directed to secure food for the people. The King ostensibly proposes to do it by propaganda or by slogans and by putting independent-minded young-men behind the prison bars. But mare propaganda or setting some foreign educated bright young-men to the task of drafting economic plans would not do the trick and convert poverty into prosperity and a dream into reality? What he perhaps feels is that there has been lack of a slogan or plan which accounted to the appalling poverty of the people. This simplistic explanation of economic poverty of the nation is startlingly attractive and the young King seems to have beer allured by it.

As an avowed opponent to dictatorship of any kind, I have every right to suggest that the King is motivated more by personal ambition rather than by consideration of national welfare. But I am prepared to give him the benefit of doubts. He may have developed this concept in the rarefied atmosphere of some of the campuses of the Western Universities. Today, in Nepal some of the bright products of these Universities are in charge of economic transformation. Academicians are prone to think that, ideas if they are bright, are all that the world is in need of. But the realities of life get softened in a cool atmosphere of a class room or seminars. I have had occasions to participate in seminars and learned discourses of academicians. I can speak with experience that there we were confronted only with load full of expert terms and theories, which have no relevance to our realities.

I wholly subscribe to the view that Nepal needs economic transformation. Ours is a backward society, steeped in poverty and ignorance. The task of modernizing is indeed a great task. But how do we achieve it? Not by "immortal sayings" or coining of catchy slogans. What we have to do, first and foremost, is to mobilize the people for this great task. Unless, the people are aroused to action and involve themselves in this formidable task, we will not even be able to touch the fringe of the problem. This is where politics come in. Modernization is not merely an economic problem. It is a political one; for it involves the people initially through the process of rousing people and motivating them. It creates self confidence in them. It creates local and national leadership. A docile nation, led by its nose by a dictator, cannot be a vehicle for change, much less a revolutionary transformation of society. The question is: Do you, or don’t you accept the people as the most important factor of change? Do you or don’t you accept that they have to move first. If the reply is in affirmative, you cannot escape the demand for people's politics. After all, what is politics? It is the management of men. A dictatorship manages them as chattels. Democracy is the management of the people through an institution representing their own will. The people are negative factors in a dictatorial kind of politics; but in democracy they are positive ones. In one, people do not develop a sense of responsibility towards the national task; in the other, they cannot escape it. Economics is the management of things. In democracy, this vests in the people.

We, demand for people's rights, not because we are enamored of some irrelevant political theories. But they are the first necessary step for any progress in any direction. Dictatorship is a crime against the people. The crime constitutes in denying to the people an opportunity to participate in the national resurgence. King Birendra is ill-advised if he honestly feels that politics is not an important issue for Nepal today.