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A Time For Heroes

February 4, 2001

Nepal news


I was reading an article by a young Nepali graduate recently that described Nepal as having a very bleak future if any future at all. An American intelligence report in January warned of the imminent chance of civil war. Travel restrictions have been placed on American personnel. And, after more than five years of Maoist insurgency the Government has created an Armed Police Force with special powers to crush it. 'It is one step away from Army mobilization' our 78 year old Prime Minister has declared. And so we face the prospect of more killings, more retaliation and even the tragedy of civil war itself.

I ask myself when will the lessons of history ever be learnt. Popular uprisings can never be crushed by force. They are only delayed by it. And popular uprisings will always occur when the vast mass of citizens live in poverty and the governing elite live in carpeted mansions and luxury cars. There can be no solution to insurgency in Nepal until that reality has been altered. Over 40% of the population live below the poverty line whilst the tiny number of obscenely wealthy families become ever richer and more powerful by the week. Individual rebels might be killed or imprisoned but their cause cannot be so easily overcome. That has been the experience of the entire developed world and the Prime Minister should understand that more than anyone. Seven years of imprisonment did not stop his determination to fight the Panchyat regime and those who died for democracy did not deter others from fighting on. The political criminals of one era are often the heroes of the next whilst those in power are often shown by history to have been criminals themselves. The question before us must therefore be 'who are the real criminals of today and who are the true heroes of tomorrow?'

The basic cause of popular uprising has always been an unfair and unequal distribution of wealth. That was the main trigger for the European revolutions of the past and the root cause of socialism. If the Russian elite had understood the need to distribute wealth more evenly Communism would never have developed. But the wider distribution of wealth is not just a moral issue.

The plain fact is that a modern economy simply cannot work if the people have no spare money to spend. A thousand people each having a thousand dollars is always healthier for everyone than a single millionaire. More money changes hands and with each transaction the economy is stimulated. More traders can earn their living selling ordinary commodities to more people and prices are reduced through bulk demand. Even the Government can benefit through higher tax revenues. In short a wider distribution of wealth is essential for the entire system to function.

But after more than ten years of democracy that vital trend in the economy has not even begun. The average income per head has not even increased in line with price inflation. The rich have got richer and the ordinary citizen remains on the verge of starvation. This situation simply cannot go on and no amount of force can crush the basic right of each citizen to fair pay, proper working conditions and proper government. There has to be a government that delivers a redistribution of wealth and actually ends corruption so that the fire of popular discontent is put out. Any suppression of basic rights will only fan the flames and ignite an even greater blaze.

And if there is no political party today with the courage and conviction to follow such a course then a new party with that policy will surely rise and eventually sweep to power. It is the way of things. In Britain a century ago, politics was dominated by two old parties that always maintained a large gap between rich and poor. It was the same then as in Nepal today. New leaders and new parties emerged from the will of the people to change that system. The achievement of democracy is only the first step towards the proper rights of citizens. The struggle afterwards must be to make that system work for the benefit of everyone and not just an ancient elite. That was the agony Europe suffered for a century as the forces of change met stubborn resistance from the old regime. Millions died in terrible wars. But eventually those new parties triumphed and basic civil rights were established.

Now the emerging democracies in the developing world have a chance to learn from that experience. If the lives of villagers are to be governed by a modern State rather than their ancient local system, that State has the duty to care for them as much as their village elders would have done before. And there were no villages in our ancient past where one family would eat themselves sick and the majority would go hungry. The village elders would have redistributed the food so that everyone could eat. That is the duty of the modern State to its citizens.

There is no need to go to bloody war with each other. We only need a political party that is motivated by the aim of improving all our lives and not by personal power or greed. That will be clear from their manifesto. There are clear simple measures to solve the problem that no political party has yet proposed. There has to be a wider distribution of wealth in Nepal not only for everyone to survive but for the survival of the State itself. And the people who deliver that promise will surely be the heroes of tomorrow even if they are the criminals of today.

With my best wishes to you all,