I was in Kathmandu last week. An interesting time to be in Nepal as a political observer, watching the Jhalanath Khanal-led government run out of time to cobble together a coalition. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there as a political observer. My task was to meet with the top brass in the government’s Education department. And to try to figure out if an environment programme that has managed to excite and engage school students in India, would work its magic in Nepal, too.
So I was more than a little nervous. What if the government changes? Would these talks that we had just concluded have to begin all over again? Some other time with some other people?? But my smiling, warm and reassuringly unflappable hosts did not seem to think so. We made plans, short term as well as long term. I began to relax after the Director General, Education---clearly the maker of final decisions—called us to his room to discuss how he could help in rolling out of the programme in the districts of Nepal. As we walked out of the newly-built government premises in Thimi, I must confess I was mouthing a silent “Yay!”. Not triumphantly, its too early for that. Just joyfully. A juvenile gesture, I agree, but the relief was so great!
But later as I sat in the car, watching the streaming crowd in the narrow lanes and bylanes of Kathmandu, I decided I was foolish to worry so much. The people of Nepal have learnt to keep working, living and even prospering despite their government. Think about it. The political history of this Himalayan nation is vividly colourful, to say the least. It has survived a century old monarchy; a decade long civil war—violent and all pervasive—and finally past five years of bungling, regressive ruling by the nation’s so-called democratic political parties, including the Maoists. And, like I said, it has survived.
What has held Nepal together is its strong, never-say-die community spirit. When the government fails, the Nepalese people manage to organize themselves. And find a solution of their own. Some are quick fix measures. Like wearing home made cloth masks to keep out the severely polluted urban air. Others are more self sustaining. Like forming neighbourhood watchdog bodies to monitor water supply in cities. Like setting up community projects to generate power out of running mountain rivers and springs. Like leading hugely successful community forestry programmes. Like hammering out extraordinarily people-friendly land acquisition deals. Seldom as a national policy, almost always as a local initiative.
So there is no doubt about it, really. Nepal and the Nepalese will survive. And so, hopefully, will my programme.