1-7 December 2017 #886

Banking on connectivity

Our collective prosperity depends on first turning our hard borders into soft ones
Anil Chitrakar


When the Malla rulers and their skillful artists of Bhaktapur were busy supervising the construction of the Nyatapau temple at Taumadi Square, the British were busy setting up the Bank of England and Yale University was being established in the United States.

The revenue that Kathmandu Valley, with its traders and merchants, generated from the lucrative trade between Lhasa and the Gangetic plains paid for building seven World Heritage monument zones. These in turn continue to generate tourism revenue for the government and local people to this day.

However, 315 years after the great five-storey temple was built, Bhaktapur still cannot get permission from the government to establish the University of Bhaktapur. The historical city has a very high rate of school attendance, and the Khopa College, attended by students from 66 districts across Nepal, is known for its quality.

Awareness that we have been late in opening universities and financial institutions is one thing, but here in 2017 to miss taking full advantage of Nepal’s connectivity to the Indian and Chinese economies is sad, laughable and something we can never forgive ourselves for. While Europe was going through the industrial revolution, we had the Rana oligarchy ruling in Nepal. While Mao and Nehru were laying the base for strong economies in China and India, we had the partyless Panchayat system. When the whole world was taking advantage of information technology and the dot com economy, we were in the middle of an armed conflict. All were missed opportunities, but we cannot miss hitching our wagons to the fast-growing economies of our giant neighbours to the north and south.

The election manifestos of political parties in this week’s elections have become a source of ridicule among voters. The parties have failed spectacularly to win the hearts, minds and pockets of the Nepali people. But if we are to focus on taking advantage of the economic growth in our neighborhood, the promises they have made may actually be attainable.

For this, Nepal must divert its efforts from working our diplomatic charm in Beijing or New Delhi to concentrate on Lhasa or Lucknow. We must focus first on the neighbouring states within our neighbouring countries, build trust so we can trade, and profit once again.

After all, as they say, ‘We can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our neighbours’. Nepal’s future prosperity will depend on how well we get along with Tibet, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Sikkim and Uttarakhand.

This cultural landscape did not always consist of hard borders. Ram travelled all the way from Ayodhya to Janakpur to compete for the hand of Janak’s daughter Sita. She was later kidnapped and trafficked to Lanka and subsequently rescued with the help of a Monkey Army.

Buddha was born in Lumbini in Nepal and then travelled all over present day north India and passed away (attained Pariniravana) in Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh. Bhrikuti was married to the king of Tibet succeeded in converting him, and Tibet, to Buddhism.

Long before all this, Manjushree from Wu Tai Shan of Maha Chin (China) travelled to and drained the lake to start the first human settlement in Kathmandu Valley. Arniko later went to Manjushree’s home village in China and built a great stupa that stands to this day. We do not know if the Dalai Lama stopped in Lumbini as he escaped from Tibet to seek refuge in India.

All this was long before modern passports, visas and immigration check points. Even in those days borders must have been clear and respected. We need to learn from the past and act for a prosperous future. Trust among neighbors is low and the capitals where decisions are made are far apart. We need to take the lead at ground level, where trade and people-to-people contacts actually take place.

We did not have Superman, Spiderman or Batman but Hanuman flew to the Himalaya to find a life-giving herbal potion for Laxman, Ram’s younger brother. He could not find the plant, so instead carried back the whole mountain top. Our collective prosperity depends on connectivity and the first step is to turn our hard borders into soft ones.

Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc, and writes this column Half Full in Nepali Times every fortnight.

Read also:

Equidastance or asymmetry, Editorial

A triangular relationship, Shreejana Shrestha

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