Ke Garne?

By Peter Thomson

What to do? – as my Nepali friends would say.

Sitting here in SW Scotland, dogs around my feet, Aga keeping me warm it crossed my mind that we Scots are in the same position as my Nepali friends. We both have a form of elected government, we both expect our Government to act in the best interests of the people but actually find that the will of the people is the last thing our Governments want to listen to.

Currently there have been 15 elections in the Nepali Parliament to decide who will be ‘acting’ Prime Minister since the previous one stood down in May 2009 and still the four main parties can not get a resolution. The people are asking for a new general election but the elected members claim this can not be done until the new constitution is agreed (so far there has been 4 years of haggling and still nothing has been agreed – except getting rid of their King).  The country’s already tenuous infrastructure is nearing collapse with power outages for up to six hours most nights, fresh water provision in the major towns is failing, water tanker deliveries are only provided for those who have US Dollars or Euros, raw sewage is being pumped into the Bagmati River and the dead are piling up in the corridors of State run hospitals as their families often can not afford the cost of a ‘ghat’ to cremate them on while corruption and expense scams are standard practice amongst the Nepali politicians and their civil servants.

Want to build a new house in a supposed ‘area restricted for paddies and agriculture’ 1 Lak rupee (10,000 Nepali rupee – approximately £7,500 at current exchange rates) will see not only a Nelsonian blind eye to your build but all the certificates needed for water abstraction, sewage disposal and electric provision. The civil servant, his family and the local politicians will expect to be royally entertained at both the puja to bless the build and on its completion.

What has this to do with Scotland and how can I argue that we are in the same boat as my Nepali friends?

Well: we have a parliament in which at least two parties are more interested in point scoring and doing their London masters bidding than supporting policies that are in Scotland’s best interests. In Nepal’s case at least two of the sides are under Indian influence which requires frequent trips to Delhi for ‘hospital’ appointments. If they do not turn up when India calls Nepal’s fuel supplies get held at the Indian border until such times as India deems to let them clear customs. The fact that around 40% of the fuel then goes straight back over the border into India for black market sale is a matter of some conjecture. As to who is profiting? Given it is Nepal, every one from the Nepali politicians – in the arms length Nepali Oil Company – down to the tanker drivers will be: you can be sure of that. What ever India wanted will then be ‘fixed’ and politicians that were totally against it will suddenly vote for ,in exchange for 1000 rupees or so in ‘expenses’.

Kathmandu City Council’s dealings with ‘favoured contractors’ and local gang bosses  compares closely with the Tammany Hall like antics of Glasgow City Council and in some areas, Glasgow still has a bit of catching up to do. It would be unfair to compare Strathclyde’s finest with their Kathmandu equivalents (Illegal car parking, 100 rupees fixed penalty but for you, sir, 50 rupees and we’ll forget the paper work –  as they then walk away, cash in hand, with their portable ‘No Parking’ sign) but both forces do seem to get into deep trouble if they start investigating the ‘wrong’ people and prosecutors who try to force the issue in Kathmandu suddenly appear in Jiri or Chitawan, no longer in Government service.

As for packing civil service posts with pals, political creditors, political skeleton finders and families the Nepalis have this down to such a fine art that I am surprised the previous incarnation of the SPT did not have a fact finding mission to Kathmandu. Well they do/ did have trolley buses in Kathmandu until some enterprising crook nicked a few miles of copper wire, one night, during yet another power outage. You know how it is, once a couple of miles of wire went missing it seemed a shame to leave the rest – ‘Nice copper cooking pot? Hand beaten.’

The most important link between the two nations is the people. We have a lot in common with my Nepali friends; we are both innovative in the use of our available resources, put high standing in having a good education, are very hospitable, love social events and are community orientated. We tend to express our frustration with politicians in a cynical and humorous way which rarely descends into self pity and there is a gritty certainty that eventually the people will get their way. Maybe that is why I love Nepal for all its frustrations, open corruption and petty restrictions.

So what else can we learn from my Nepali friends?

How about – ‘Hoi Nah’ – which depending on the arm shrug, head nod and intonation can mean anything from ‘You must be joking? /What a stupid idea!’ to ‘Over my dead body!’ and all stops in between.

I’ll just try it out:  “Cameron, Calman Minus – HOI NAH!”

There, I feel better already; thank you Nepal.

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  1. Alex Buchan says:

    I spent over four months in Kathmandu ten years ago. So I was interested in your analysis of where it is today. I was here before the royal family imploded with the shootings by the crown prince. There was a sense when I was there that widespread veneration for the then king and his wife acted as a comforting delusion that covered over what was really going on. The writing was already on the wall even then, but the sudden deaths of the king and his wife seems to have precipitated a protracted instability that India has been able to exploit.

    I would have never have thought of comparisons between Scotland and Nepal but reading this piece I can see some quite clearly now. For me the main one is that the Nepalis are pawns in India’s need to maintain it’s position a a regional power and that this puts a break on any meaningful progress. What is most striking is how Nepali politicians, like Scots politicians, buy into this “realpolitik”, either though monetary inducements and, in Scotland’s case, through being accepted into the London elite. In our case, the carrot for playing the game according to London’s rules is an eventual peerage or a lucrative appointments in business or the public sector, but its the same basic dynamic as in Nepal.

    1. peter thomson says:

      Hi Alex,

      I have a deep love for the people of Nepal and, as in most countries, the people are not the problem. The other dynamic I did not mention is China’s manipulation of Nepal and the client status of the Maoist ‘Freedom Fighters’ who pop off to Singapore for their ‘Hospital appointments’ – for freedom fighters, say PIRA gangsters to understand how they operate.

      In 2006 the situation was so bad that the people of Nepal took to the streets and rioted with equal ferocity against the Indian group and the Chinese group trashing party offices, ‘Political Youth Associations’ (party enforcers) and forced the King to flee. For once the Nepali Army and armed police sat on the fence. There was great hope that the political class had got the message, they haven’t. Whether Maoist or Hindu they are more interested in carving up the big jobs with lots of ‘influence’ between them and the potential for back handers, overseas ‘fact finding trips’ than resolving the serious and crippling economic and social poverty. Sound like any big Scottish City you know?

      Though Nepal has never been conquered in modern history it is squeezed between China and India and has become a ‘client state’ that these two squabble over and manipulate. The twelfth poorest state in the world and the two richest in South Asia spend all their time keeping it that way – again the comparison …. well.

  2. Ray Bell says:

    Hi Peter, I suppose the PRC sees Nepal as part of the chessboard in its squabble with India, along with Bhutan and Burma etc (Sikkim and Tibet have firmly been annexed by India and China)

    I visited Nepal in the early 90s, and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. The poverty was there though, and the political situation was beginning to change – there were painted notice everywhere for political parties like the Plough Party (agricultural?), the Tree Party and other colourful names. There was also a large Tibetan contingent there, and pro-Tibet slogans in many places (another reason for China’s interests?)

    Alasdair Gray talks about Scotland as an archipelago (not just of islands), but Nepal’s even more so. It’s much more diverse and regionalised than here, and the infrastructure and population is even more unevenly distributed.

  3. peter thomson says:

    Hi Ray,

    The country – outside the mess that is Kathmandu and Patan – is still as beautiful as you remember it though, if you trekked to Annapurna or Chomalonga, you would see a massive difference with the new Chinese funded road slicing up towards Annapurna or the ever expanding Lukla.

    Progess I suppose. The damage to forestation in the Kumbhu has been reversed with ownership of the replanted forests given to the local Sherpa communities. Himalayan deer population is on the rise and above Namche there is word of tigers and other big cats coming back.

    The civil war removed many subsistence farmers from their terraces and paddies and the lack of maintenance means there have been many landslides in the foothills. The Maoists have still not returned the land to the farmers they displaced so Nepal, which used to be a net exporter of rice, now has to import large quantities at further cost.

    The influx of the displaced to Kathmandu and Patan has seen the disappearance of many hectares of local paddy to ‘Jerry built’ homes and shanty towns that will fall at the next earthquake.

    Ke garne!

  4. Ray Bell says:

    Namaste (I remember that one!)

    I remember we were on at least one Chinese funded road on our trip – which wasn’t great but at least a bus could drive on it.

    As for the rebels, it’s saddening. I think that there was a genuine grievance with the old political system, but it doesn’t surprise me. And I expect they probably persecute tribal minorities like some “socialists” have done in South America. All despite the fact that such societies often already have a quasi-socialist mindset about property and grazing rights.

    Taking this thing a bit further… it’s obvious that the British treated Nepal as a kind of satellite of British India, although it wasn’t part of the British Empire like many Brits seem to think (at least when they’re talking about Gurkhas) . The whole debate about the Gurkhas’ residency rights recently completely omitted a major point, i.e. gurkha villages are deliberately kept poor to provide mercenaries for the British army (and others). They’re used not just because they’re good warriors, but because they were cheap. When veterans retired back to these villages, they contributed to the local economy. Now perhaps these villages won’t even receive their pensions.

    Scots used to be in this position – the Scots and Swiss were *the* mercenaries of medieval Europe.

  5. Doonhamer says:

    Sorry, you are suffering from self delusion. The position of the Scots is nothing like the position of the Nepalese. They have real problems whereas we have very few problems other than imaginary ones imposed by the wicked English who refuse to unshackle us and let us be free. All we would get is a bunch of Scottish plonkers bossing us around instead of English ones. Still, if we had been independent we could be part of Alex’s arc of prosperity enjoying the same economically favoured position as Ireland as a full member of the euro. Phew, you should all be down the church or mosque or ashram or synagogue or animist temple offering up prayers to your God in thanks for a really lucky escape.

  6. Upfremmit says:

    “Still, if we had been independent we could be part of Alex’s arc of prosperity enjoying the same economically favoured position as Ireland as a full member of the euro.” – As opposed to being part of basket case cut-back Britain? Sorry, that doesn’t wash. If you look at the way things are being handled in the UK, it’s actually the worst of the big western European states.

    “All we would get is a bunch of Scottish plonkers bossing us around instead of English ones.”

    That’s a non-argument. A bit like saying Stalinism is better than Nazism because it’s less efficient.

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