Nepal's accidental leaders

Now that the Army is in the business of importing medicine, why not deploy the Ministry of Health to defend Lipu Lekh?


Whenever Nepal’s political ‘leaders’ ask us what they should be doing, our response is usually: “When you were in jail, what did you resolve to do when you were released and came to power?”

Over the years the reaction from those leaders has always been a sheepish smile. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt: they simply do not remember. In fact oral tradition says that when people get to the corridors of power, they forget how they got there in the first place.

The debacle in the health sector in trying to come to grips with a global pandemic is that it needs to ask the country’s military to step in to procure medical supplies. Kathmandu’s lip service to India’s land grab in Kalapani is another symptom of the deeper moral malaise that plagues Nepal’s accidental political leadership.

One popular politician once related how he came to be a ‘leader’. His college was organising a blood donation program which was disrupted by the police. The officer who beat him up said, “You want to spill communist blood in Nepal? Let me help you.” The pain of the beating and having to sleep in a cold cell turned him into a Dear Leader. Even today he reminds others that they went on to become engineers and doctors because they did not have the luck to be beaten up and detained like him.

These accidental leaders missed hygiene class, hence do not know about virus. They  missed geography class, and therefore cannot draw a map of Nepal, especially of its northwestern tip. They also know that the Nepal Army cannot be investigated and hence pushed it to build fast tracks and import masks.

One accidental leader was recently asked, “Now that the Army is importing medicines, should we not send the Ministry of Health to defend Lipu Lekh?”

Many Nepalis believed these accidental political leaders when they were blaming the mysterious Foreign Hand for anything that was wrong with Nepal. But today we have turned into a country that waits for India’s Republic Day to get free ambulances. We need the Swiss to buy us COVID 19 test kits  and UNDP to connect ministries to Zoom.

The building in which the Nepal’s Parliament sits for the budget session is a birthday gift from the Chinese government to King Birendra – and it was supposed to be a convention centre. Our parliamentary democracy couldn’t even build its own Parliament.

Nepalis are finally beginning to ask what happens to all the taxes we pay. There never seems to be a shortage of money when politicians and bureaucrats need the latest SUVs  but we cannot afford a Zoom account?

The people of Kathmandu, many of whom have sold their homesteads in the districts to buy a tiny patch in the Valley, have started roof gardens to grow vegetable and rented remaining floors. The market is full of vegetables grown on roof terraces. In fact, 52 days into the lockdown, there is no visible shortage of vegetables or black marketing in Kathmandu.

With the global economic downturn there is a real possibility of Nepalis coming home from all over the world  Many countries want to protect jobs for their own citizens, and hence Nepal may experience brain gain sooner than many would have predicted. We may have doctors  nurses, builders and service providers who are now second to none due to the experience they have received in the world’s most advanced economies.

The post COVID-19 economy in Nepal could do really well if they are given the incentives to start businesses and create jobs. They always told us they would return one day and rebuild and develop Nepal. We all know that good human resources are the most critical variable to develop a country and not just its natural resources endowment – just like Japan or Korea.

The COVID-19 crisis could be turned into a chance for a Great Leap Forward. Nepalis returning to Nepal should not be seen as a problem but an opportunity for growth.

Our accidental leaders will get due credit because if it was not for their mismanagement, Nepalis would never have left Nepal in the first place. The glass is indeed half full.

Anil Chitrakar is President of Siddharthinc.

Anil Chitrakar