Unlike those who chose to leave Nepal and can comfortably be pessimistic at the expense of those who either opted to or were forced to stay back, we have to look for the silver linings. And the early signs are good. The post-covid bounce back is finally in the air.
As a successful manifestation of collective human strength triumphing over complex global challenges, the vaccination drive is showing signs of success the world over, giving us enough reasons for optimism. Bookings across the spectrum in tourism look good, export is picking up and young people are starting businesses. The comparative advantages we have are being talked about, again.
However the situation isn’t all hunky dory. Without spoiling the party, let’s try to see what we have failed to learn, honestly.
As I am writing this today, in a peak tourist season, we are facing a nationwide strike called by the communist party led by Netra Bikram Chand, once a powerful second rung leader in the insurgent mother Maoist party. Such atrocious politics never lets the dark memory of past decades fade.
In 2019, I was the race director of an international mountain bike challenge called ‘Waling 100’ that we had organized with the help of Nepal Tourism Board and the local government of Waling municipality. It was the first MTB event conceptualized, designed, planned and executed by a Nepali team that had international aspirations. We wanted to establish it as one of the toughest one-day MTB marathons in the world.
As we released the race descriptions, we caught the attention of the MTB enthusiasts worldwide, and had some international registrations too. But just a month before the event, the same underground group led by Chand carried out bomb blasts in Kathmandu. Four people died, and many were injured. Nepal, just recovering from the earthquake, was made to look like a battlefield again. Travel advisories against visiting Nepal were issued and obviously, our bookings were cancelled. We were forced to postpone the event by a month, and even then ended up with only two of the 18 registered international participants turning up.
Last few decades have been hell for us. The insurgency, the instability of the transition, the earthquake and the blockade have all piled up deep consequences in our society, politics and economy. Our politicians have botched up so much that groups drunk in nostalgia of a ‘heroic royal rule’ have started organizing themselves, seeing a political future in that undercurrent.
The frustrations and the lack of expectations from our leaders have no limits. And, add to that the unapologetically gross display of power by the now super-rich communist gang led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, ‘the fierce one’, and we have given up any hope of better politics for a long-long time.
Violent politics, impractical labor laws coupled with malpractices by the private sector have produced many case studies of failure in Nepal. A blooming carpet industry that had become a source of employment for many people, especially the women, was brought to a grinding halt. ‘Insatiably bargaining labor unions backed by the political parties’ is noted as the main reason by one businessman, who had closed his factory and switched to real estate decades ago.
Recently, labor issues also forced the high-end adventure-gear brand Sherpa to shift most of its production base from Nepal to Vietnam. And the shared economy based start-ups like Tootle and Pathao have also been hit by the failure of the lawmakers to catch up to the developments in the technological field.
At a time when the hospitality sector has hooked up a lot of investments both from the domestic as well as international circles, we must remember how the industry was destroyed in the past. The Fulbari Resort of Pokhara, a beautiful luxury property, has become a case study of how the labor union backed by the Maoists destroyed the flag-bearer of an industry, killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Similarly, unethical practices by the operators to cash in on medical insurance during high-altitude trips have harmed our credibility and it will take years to recover.
Bouncing back isn't as easy as it sounds in fancy five-star conferences. And if we neglect the lessons that history taught us at great cost, we will have to pay with sweat and blood, again.