POWER SHIFT IN NEPAL Seshadri Chari
The Maoist insurgency led by CPN-M began as a trickle in 1996 with armed rebellion in the western hills of the Himalayan Kingdom and expanded throughout the country in less than a decade. The Palace killings (Kot Murder-2) in 2001 put the Monarchy and all political parties in a quandary, thus discrediting the new King Gyanendra and the Nepali Congress which was ruling at that time. To make matters worse, in 2002, King Gyanendra dismissed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, ironically for not holding elections, and declared himself absolute Monarch. After series of government changes followed by a state of Emergency, he incarcerated all political leaders condemning their failure to reign in the Maoists, promised elections, led the army from upfront against the Maoist rebels and ended up killing more than 13,000 people.
During this time various groups in the plains of Nepal called Tarai rallied under different “Madeshi” parties and became a significant political force drawing the Maoists, NC and the pro-Monarchy elements towards its support base. Ironically, the Maoists as well as the Madeshi parties used their sympathisers in New Delhi more often than relying on their own supports back home. They all appeared to be more eager to hold on to authority without facing the people’s wrath in elections.
Finally, on April 10, 2008, Nepal voted for nation’s first-ever Constituent Assembly election and on May 28, Nepal’s Constituent Assembly met for the first time and voted to abolish the monarchy, transforming Nepal into a federal democratic republic. The Maoists had evened the score with the Palace but in their exuberance, began to behave as new monarchs totally disregarding the commitment to the people. The new Constitution was a far cry as no one spoke about it even as Nepal began to reel under non governance, runaway inflation, 24x7 power outages, and extreme cynicism. The Maoists did not disappoint George Orwell.
For more than a couple of years all was not well in the Maoist camp. The tussle between groups owing allegiance to Prachanda, Baidya and Baburam Bhattarai spilled over to the streets of Kathmandu seriously threatening the peace process and the Constitution drafting, which was the main reason the CA was elected in the first place. The party’s highest forum was irretrievably split while discussing as many as eleven serious issues such as right to justice, right to property, right to social justice and political objective of the State but all the while the Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who was also the coordinator of the Problem Resolution Sub-Committee, habitually skipped all such meetings. Patently ‘Bourgeois’ characteristics like Intra party feuds and subterfuge became common in CPN-M which opposed its own government.
The task of drafting the Constitution was eclipsed by the petty party politics and sharing spoils of power. Due to instability four governments headed the CA in four years each contradicting one another and their own parties as well. Political consensus eluded basic concepts about governance and hence the CA became a tool in the hands of self serving power hungry individuals totally divorced from ideology or love for the country. As a result of this politics got badly fragmented giving rise to worst form of identity politics such as Tarai versus Hill, Madeshi versus Newari and much more.
After four wasted years, people were fed up of the CA which had not only overshot its term but lost credibility and people’s faith and also the court’s permission to continue which refused any further extension beyond 28 May 2012. Realising the futility of clinging to power, PM Baburam Bhattarai, called for elections for a new CA but other political parties refused to buy his democratic credentials and sought a different set up to hold elections. Eventually, a non-party government with the Chief Justice as PM was formed in March 2013 mandated to hold elections for another CA.
The CA-II result is a signal for democratic forces to unite and work for producing tangible results and not just engage in political semantics and ideological deceit. It is for the Nepali Congress and the CPM- (UML) to sink their differences and bring everyone on board, including the spoil-sport Maoists who have been throwing up tantrums after the drubbing, in order to produce a new Constitution, show good governance traits, restore people’s faith in democracy and end cynicism.
Nepal’s tryst with democracy began in 1990 and the polity witnessed many shades of governments. But by far the worst offenders have been the Maoists who not only destroyed institutions but wrecked the economy and seriously compromised the security and non-aligned independence of the country.
Increasing number of prime properties in Nepal are reported to have been pawned to outsiders especially fly by night operators from China who are said to have some element of backing by powerful strategists in Beijing. Incidentally, China reportedly was the first country to pat Nepal on the success of the CA Poll outcome and sure to fast forward its efforts in reaching out to the new dispensation in Singhadurbar to promote trade. The Nepali Congress led government will have to chart a new course and correct the balance of power equations, a task which the NC leaders are fairly good at. With a new set of leaders and younger elements coming up in the party, the NC should avoid the pitfalls they encountered during the days of Girija Koirala versus Deuba days. Senior leaders should opt for Constitution making and consensus building and leave day to day governance to the younger elements in all the parties.The Tarai belt has tasted blood and has found a right reason to be agitated and feel let down, first by the Monarchy, then by the democratic parties and lastly by the Maoists. The CPM-UML seems to have dented the Maoist base in Tarai but the Madeshi groups have established their influence and won good number of seats. The new government should include sufficient representation from the Tarai and Madeshi parties to assuage the feeling of alienation, real or perceived, to avoid another showdown and possible political, social and economic set back.
India has to play an important role in defining the future course of events in Kathmandu and New Delhi does not have the luxury sitting back and relax or outsource Nepal affairs again to some unemployed Left-wingers. Economic development of Nepal will be to the fullest advantage of not only the people of that country but for the entire northern India and the region as a whole.
(The author is the National Convenor of the External Affairs Cell of the BJP)
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Agriculture and rural sector have been the backbone of any economy in the world and more so especially in India. The revival and dominance of the Chinese economy started with the strengthening of the farmers. Even developed economies of the world give special and protectionist treatment to agriculture. Reviving and strengthening the agriculture sector and rural economy have suddenly become very important for the present government given the fact that elections are increasingly being influenced by the rural voters more than the urban voters. Even from sheer economic prosperity point of view, Indian economy depends on a robust rural and agricultural growth more than probably the industrial production and service sector. Little wonder, that the Finance Minister has more than once emphasized that agriculture will be the prime area of focus.
The fourteenth Finance Commission recommended that there should be an increase in the states’ share of the total central tax collection. Accepting this recommendation as a step towards cooperative federalism and considering the fact that more than half the state governments are ruled by the BJP or their allies, the centre readily increased the state share. But correspondingly many central schemes were also withdrawn or their outlays curtailed. The states began allocating the central tax component to urban schemes like roads and water supply and other urban requirements. This considerably reduced allocation to rural and agricultural schemes. Rural economy, already witnessing a setback as a result of demonetisation and introduction of GST, was left cash-starved. As a result of this, the farm sector abandoned all new inputs in the sowing season. Naturally, the agricultural production saw a drastic fall and consequential lower growth in the wholesale price of agro products. The anti-inflationary measures, much to the benefit of the urban population, kept the wholesale price lower but came as a dampener to the farmers.
Many of these factors have forced the farmers to take back very little from the mandis. The rural expenditure by the states was about fifteen percent in 2005-2006 and rose to thirty-six percent in 2014-2015 but came down drastically to an all-time low of about eleven percent in 2016-2017. The Finance Minister in his budget speech has recognised this fall in rural expenditure and promised to allocate more for the farm sector. Many of the reports prepared and released by the agriculture ministry highlighted the alarming figures pertaining to widening gap between agricultural production and income levels.
Realising the urgency of the situation and needs of the farmers, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has provided increased institutional credit target for agriculture for the financial year 2018-19 amounting to Rs 11 lakh crore from Rs 10 lakh crore. This will allow the government to step up the efforts to ease availability of funds to the farmers and for the agriculture sector in general. The recent events have highlighted the discontent among farmers who have to increasingly depend on secondary sources such as local money lenders for small loans and accommodation money, highly detrimental for them as well as the rural economy.
The Finance Minister has reiterated the government’s resolve to treat agriculture sector as an enterprise. This means the farmers’ income has to go up in proportion to their land holding, crop pattern, and investments such as input cost etc. In a way, agriculture should be treated as an industry and subject to all the factors of production, sales, and consumption.
Keeping in view the importance that agriculture has assumed, the finance minister has carefully crafted this budget with maximum emphasis on rural and agriculture sector.
The proposal to implement MSP for all crops is a very encouraging one, especially for the farmers as most of them, depend on multi-crop farming. Besides, the MSP has been increased to 1.5 times of the production cost. This will immensely benefit the small and marginal farmers who account for almost 86%. But there are two issues here. One is that the system of determining the cost of production is a very cumbersome one and is usually decided by a set of people who are directly concerned with agriculture. Again they take a very long time, sometimes as much as six to eight months to decide the cost of production and the MSP based on it. Another factor is the multiplicity of produce. In these circumstances, by the time the MSP is decided and implemented, the market has changed and the demand-supply position would have altered.
The budget also proposes to upgrade Grameen Agricultural Markets and APMCs that are the lifeline of the agriculture. There are also incentives for Women Self help Groups to undertake organic farming. All over the world organic products have a good market. But this will also require tweaking of the pesticides and other inputs that go into organic farming.
The Budget has also allocated 2000 crores for building rural infrastructure mainly to assist in agriculture. This is no doubt a welcome step but the amount is woefully small compared to the requirement. Anything less than two lakh crores for rural infrastructure should be considered insufficient if one has to do a sincere and sustainable job.
The provision of ten lakh crores as a credit to farmers with 60 days interest waiver and an increase of NABARD fund to 40,000 crores is also a welcome step. The idea of setting up smaller Krishi Vigyam Kendra for soil testing and extending other advisory services to farmers will be seen as a very constructive step if they are implemented with all sincerity and monitored properly.
The proposal to set up dedicated micro irrigation fund under the supervision of NABARD with an initial corpus of 5000 crores is also a very encouraging step. This again will help in identifying and bringing non–irrigated land into the fold of arable land.
The first Budget after the announcement of GST has come as a huge relief to farmers and is expected to give a fillip to the rural economy and the agriculture sector which has witnessed many stressful years.
About the author:
The author is member of the National Executive Committee of the BJP and an expert commentator on economic and strategic issues
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