Nestled in the Himalayas, Nepal is one of the very few countries in the world today to have never been colonised by any major global power. Ranking low, however, in the Human Development Index, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world while its unique geographical and cultural diversity attracts millions of tourists from around the globe.
Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, was founded in the 2nd century A.D. Nepals’ modern history starts with the unification campaign of King Prithvi Narayan Shah dating back to the 18th century. The Shah dynasty ruled Nepal for more than 240 years, and was succeeded by a Khas dominated government system, one that perceived the ‘other’ caste as a minority in the mainstream politics. King Shah’s unification campaign promoted the nationalist feelings among Nepalese for safeguarding their country from the British Empire which was at its prime in India, and at the time, in Southern Nepal. This nationalist sentiment was purely based on the Khas which profoundly sidelined other indigenous communities of Nepal resulting in considerable inequalities. The caste system in Nepal (Brahmin, Chettri, Vaisya and Shudra), both in religion and in cultural practices, contributed to the creation of development gaps in terms of socio-economic and political upbringing among the people. Today, Nepal is going through a cohesive struggle of marginalised communities who have never been a part of the ruling elites.
In modern times, Nepal has been on the verge of moving towards a system of federalism, while its specific dynamics have not yet been decided; discussing the issue of Caste is still in it’s early stages of debate, both culturally and politically.
After 1990, through its establishment as a multi-party democracy, Nepal has become part of a globalized world and many young people started going abroad for study and work in Middle East. Privatization started in Nepal from 1992 onwards, liberalizing Nepalese society with the advancement of industry under private ownership. Different civic movements also promoted participatory democracy, access to information, and the empowerment of people respectively. Nepalese society has also witnessed the beginnings of a feminist movement resulting in a transformation of gender roles. Women are becoming the head of the families, a role previously held only by men. Under such circumstances, women have now started taking care of families, children, and the outside world. Ironically, violence against women has risen also because women have started reporting crimes which was limited in the past. In recent times, the issue has come under public vigilance.
Since the rise of India and China in global politics, Nepalese significance for these countries has similarly risen in recent years. Global terrorism and crimes, political activities, diplomatic exercise, globalization etc. are only some of the factors that every country has become more conscious about. Nepalese leadership has always been guided with Dependency Theory in mind in regards to dealing with its neighbours, especially India. Nepal being a very small country in comparison to India and also being hugely dependant on the latter, is perceived as having and inferior status during negotiations.
Corruption is prevalent in Nepalese bureaucracy and in high profile political leadership, including the policy level. This issue is today pivotally tied to the country’s energy crisis. Nepal has a huge potential in hydro power. Yet, electricity production via water has been prone to wide loopholes in its political and diplomatic implementation. Most of the hydro projects once signed, face a tough time for their implementation for which political instability is predominantly blamed. The Mahakali Treaty or Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project (PMP) which was signed in 12 Feb 1996 with India remains incomplete. Treaties with India are always facing wider transparency, greater political commitment and by engaging in such treaties, Nepal is cautious against expansionist sentiments from India. However, high hopes are connected with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seen as trying to maintain and develop peaceful and progressive relationships with Indias’ neighbours, particularly in South Asia.
Not an ‘Economic standpoint’ but always a ‘political’ ideology
In April 2006, an uprising started in Nepal against King Gyanendra’s direct and undemocratic rule. This Democracy Movement forced the King to restore the Parliament and terminated his direct rule. The peoples’ expectations of this movement was to lay the foundations for a sustainable, peaceful and prosperous Nepal. The Republic of Nepal was established after the consensus of the first meeting of its Constituting Assembly (CA). There remains, however, a degree of scepticism from experts that it is undemocratic to abolish a 250 years old Monarchy in the first meeting of the CA instead of having a referendum on the matter. The Democracy Movement of 2006 could not lift the aspirations of Nepalese people and thus the country is more fragile than before. This has an adverse affect on about 1500 youngsters who migrate on a daily basis to the Middle East to chase their dreams. The bottom line of the April 2006 movement was purely political, and not an economic one. The Constituent Assembly is elected for the second time in history to draft the constitution. Yet, Nepal is still at a crossroads and it is unclear which side of the road Nepal is going to take, leading to a waning of public support for the Constituent Assembly, which seems to have failed to meet peoples’ hopes.
After the civil war in Nepal (1996-2006), production has declined considerably, and more workers migrate to the booming Middle-Eastern nations. The country is now witnessing a major brain (and labour) drain that has affected Nepalese agricultural productivity. Nepal has still not recovered from the war and the country is experiencing a major decline in the development sector.
Nepalese economy is now solely dependent on remittance which comes from Middle East (Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia etc.). According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Nepal’s GDP grew by an estimated 5.2% in 2014 which was 3.5% oneyear before. Remittance boosted 6.1% growth and monsoon rains boosted agriculture by 4.7%. Adding on, Nepal is still dependent on traditional agricultural methods rather than scientific ones. Monsoon rains determine food production and entire livelihoods, and thus affecting the Nepalese agro-dependent population in regards to food supplies, chances of floods, draught etc.
According to the UN, currently 25% of Nepalese people live inpoverty in Nepal which was 42% in 1996. The most substantial challenge for Nepal is a weak political consortium and elected local bodies as well as its political elites.
Nepalese civil society gained momentum right after the advent of a multi-party democracy in 1990. According to the NGO Federation of Nepal, currently there are 40,000-60,000 NGOs working in Nepal which was only 219 until 1990 (Social Services National Coordination Council).
Civil society organizations (CSOs) in Nepal have been relatively successful in empowering people in terms of access to information, participatory development, human rights promotion, and activism as well as campaigning. The improvement in some of these social indicators has long been attributed to CSOs in Nepal with development assistance. This has contributed to a certain degree of progress in the MDG goals of the United Nations.
Activism through online tools is also one of the achievements of Nepal; as the access to the internet is rapidly increasing in the global south, users of internet in Nepal have also increased. Tools of IT have similarly revolutionized the way of thinking of the Nepalese people. Several youngsters have participated in different global campaigns due to the advancement of the internet in the developing world. Digital technologies are also creating and maximizing the efficiency of individuals. Truly, as with Thomas Freidman’s famous line, “World is becoming Flat”, even in this Himalayan nation.
About the Author:
Saurav Raj Pant is an undergraduate student of Sociology & Population at Tri-Chandra Multiple Campus of Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is also a blogger and Campaigner in Nepal working for international issues that affects commons. His field of interest includes Globalization, European Union, Trans-Atlantic issues, Climate Change, public policies, Social Media, Geopolitics and Geo-economics. He is actively involved in organizing global campaigns and mobilizing youths in Nepal. Saurav is part of GPPWs internship programme.
Picture credit: Przemek Siemion