Maoist's Attack On the Media Continues: Are YCLs the New Mandales?

>> Wednesday, December 24, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | December 24, 2008

These are strange times. But these are not unique times. History repeats itself.

When in government, you're supposed to maintain law and order. What do you do when those who are in power themselves defend, even encourage, actions of musclemen who attack, intimidate with violence and death threats, vandalize, and carry out violent physical assaults on journalists who don't tow their line?

In Nepal, under the implicit protection and complicity of the leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal - Maoist, the party that leads the current governing coalition, the Maoist-affiliated trade union groups have got a free pass from the CPN-Maoist leadership to unleash with impunity a reign of terror on the free press.

Despite leading the governing coalition, Maoists are still continuing their insurgency-time mentality and behavior of using violence to intimidate free press that dare to report news that the Maoists don't like. Such attack on the free press is unacceptable and should not go unpunished.

On Sunday, approximately 50 Maoist-affiliated trade union members, most of whom are the defamed and feared Maoist-affiliated Young Communist League members (more commonly known simply as the YCL), carried out a vicious physical attack on the journalists, management and staff of Himalmedia, a Kathmandu-based media enterprise that publishes such reputable publications as the Nepali Times and the Himal Khabarpatrika and vandalized their head office. Many Himalmedia staffers were injured in the assault by a large gang of masked Maoist YCLs.

The attack drew immediate national and international condemnation. The embarrassed Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda put a political spin on the matter and blamed the attack on whom he called the "ex-monarchists" who he said infiltrated his party to defame them. The very next day, however, the defiant Maoist trade union chief, Salikram Jammarkattel, who is also a Maoist member of the Constituent Assembly, ironically rendered Prachanda's spin doctoring worthless when he threatened further, more vicious attacks on Himalmedia, if the media house did not yield in to the demands of Maoist trade union. That was an admission that Maoist leadership encouraged the attack. The two Maoist trade union leaders who led the attackers were reportedly safely ensconced in a YCL camp. Their demand was reinstatement of 22 non-journalist staffers who were let go.

Prachanda and Jammarkattel should know you don't settle labor dispute through physical attacks. If Himalmedia had let go those 22 staff members illegally, then the proper course of action would be to go to a labor tribunal or a court of law. Physical assault by a group that is affiliated with the party in power can only be construed as the government's intention to muzzle the free press. Maoists maintain that this is an issue of labor dispute. However, facts show that this is an issue of Maoists trying to muzzle the press. It appears that Sunday's assault was triggered by criticism of Jammarkattel the previous day by the Himal Khabarpatrika. This is deeply troubling. You simply don't muzzle criticism of a public figure by using physical force. Maoists must realize that their days of guerrilla insurgency are over. They must play fair and peaceful politics.

This is not the first time Maoist-affiliated labor groups have attacked Himalmedia. On October 25, Maoist perpetrators attacked with stones the Himalmedia CEO and his driver while they were in a van. On November 16, a group of Maoists burned 5,000 copies of a Himalmedia newspaper at a distribution depot. Then they made death threats against Himalmedia staffers the next day.

In October 2007, Maoists vandalized the offices of another large Kathmandu-based media enterprise, the Kantipur Publications that publishes such popular newspapers as the Kathmandu Post and the Kantipur for ciriticizing the Maoist party. Even after winning the Constituent Assembly election, Prachanda himself is on record for having warned Kantipur journalists not to criticize the Maoists and made unspecified threats if the media house did not comply with his demand. There have been many other attacks on journalists; some have even been murdered.

This is not how a government builds a nation. This is not how a government inspires confidence. This is not how a government builds trust. Without confidence and trust, the Maoists might as well forget about building a New Nepal.

Let's be very clear on one thing. Intimidation and violent physical attacks cannot and will not muzzle the media. Prachanda would do well for himself keeping this basic tenet of free press and freedom of speech squarely in his mind. Otherwise, the rising infamy of vicious YCL activities will engulf the credibility of Prachanda and his comrades, much like what the infamous Mandales did to expedite the demise of the seemingly invincible Panchayat system of government that had undemocratically ruled the country for 30 years from the 1960s to the 1980s, banning opposition political parties. That history is not very old and still fresh in our memory. The much despised Panchayati Mandales did then what YCLs are doing today.

If Maoists don't check the activities of YCL, they had better recall the fate of the despised and infamous Mandales of the Panchayat era that was, in part, responsible for the end of the Panchayat system. If YCLs are not the new Mandales, Maoists will have to show that.


Maoists' Plan Will Reverse Progress in Education and Healthcare Sectors in Nepal

>> Thursday, November 6, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | November 6, 2008

Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai has reportedly asked the private educational institutions in Nepal to look for alternative means for making investments. The media reports quote him as saying today at a function organized by Maoist-affiliated student wing, that it is the state's responsibility to provide basic education and health to its people. His statement reveals what may be on the way in Maoists' education and healthcare policy.

There is something wrong with this picture. First, as if by the power of magic, Bhattarai appears to have curiously developed the ability and acumen of a financial investment analyst to advise investors how and where to invest their money. Bhattarai is no investment analyst. He's a politician. He's a politician with rigid communist ideology that has produced no beneficial results anywhere the ideology has been practiced.

Second, Bhattarai's plan (or is it just a wish?) clearly leaves no room for private sector participation in education and health sectors. It's not bad for the state to provide basic education and healthcare services (and actually, it is expected) and I'll give Bhattarai credit for that. But, for a country that needs to leap-frog if at all it wants to emerge from the shackles of poverty and underdevelopment, "basic" is just not enough. Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Bhattarai.

What does Bhattarai want to do? What now then? No Rato Bangala? No Budhanilkantha School? No St. Xavier's and St. Mary's? No AVM? No Norvic? No private school? No private hospitals?

To the extent that the government's role is to enable the state to provide basic education and healthcare, I agree with Bhattarai. But, his idea that private sector involvement is not necessary in either education or health sector comes off as a belligerent argument of a nut-case politician. I'm sorry for this harsh assessment, but Bhattarai has left no room for much else.

Nepal needs public-private partnership both in education and healthcare sectors. That is the only way Nepal will create centers of excellence. Just to provide fodder for ultra leftists within the party that are indoctrinated with unbending political philosophy that equalization is the objective, Bhattarai is simply trying to lower the bar for excellence. You don't need to destroy centers of excellence in the name of providing equal opportunity. Instead, government's focus should be increase investment in public school system and improve their quality. That's how you provide opportunities to the underprivileged, not by eliminating private sector participation. The government should leave private schools and private hospitals alone.

Eliminating private participation in education and healthcare sectors, or any other sector, for that matter, will not only stifle the spirit of promoting excellence, but will also be a bad economic policy. It will drive away capital investment from abroad. Nepal badly needs foreign capital investment to develop its resource base.

If Bhattarai has problem with certain run-of-the-mill private schools and healthcare centers whose quality of service is questionable, then he ought to be able to control them. He has the power and the wherewithal to do so. You don't amputate the whole limb if your finger is hurting.

Eliminating private sector involvement in education and healthcare sectors is the surest way of eliminating the basis for promoting excellence. Without excellence, Nepal government might as well forget making Nepal competitive in today's globalized economy.

Bhattarai also remarked that "the government is preparing to distribute academic certificates through open universities to those individuals who could not receive formal education due to their involvement in the Maoist war." Is Bhattarai for real? Has he lost his mind? Well, he might as well go ahead and distribute Ph.D.'s to all his Maoist "friends who could not pursue education due to their involvement in the armed conflict." This is too bizarre that it isn't even funny.


Maoists' Plan Will Reverse Progress in Education and Healthcare Sectors

By Ajay Pradhan | November 6, 2008

Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai has reportedly asked the private educational institutions in Nepal to look for alternative means for making investments. The media reports quote him as saying today at a function organized by Maoist-affiliated student wing, that it is the state's responsibility to provide basic education and healthcare services to its people. His statement reveals what may be on the way in Maoists' education and healthcare policy.

There is something wrong with this picture. First, as if by the power of magic, Bhattarai appears to have curiously developed the ability and acumen of a financial investment analyst to advise investors how and where to invest their money. Bhattarai is no investment analyst. He's a politician. He's a politician with rigid communist ideology that has produced no beneficial results anywhere the ideology has been practiced.

Second, Bhattarai's plan (or is it just a wish?) clearly leaves no room for private sector participation in education and health sectors. It's not bad for the state to provide basic education and healthcare services (and actually, it is expected) and I'll give Bhattarai credit for that. But, for a country that needs to leap-frog if at all it wants to emerge from the shackles of poverty and underdevelopment, "basic" is just not enough. Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Bhattarai.

What does Bhattarai want to do? What now then? No Rato Bangala? No Budhanilkantha School? No St. Xavier's and St. Mary's? No AVM? No Norvic? No private school? No private hospitals?

To the extent that the government's role is to enable the state to provide basic education and healthcare, I agree with Bhattarai. But, his idea that private sector involvement is not necessary in either education or health sector comes off as a belligerent argument of a nut-case politician. I'm sorry for this harsh assessment, but Bhattarai has left no room for much else.

Nepal needs public-private partnership both in education and healthcare sectors. That is the only way Nepal will create centers of excellence. Just to provide fodder for ultra leftists within the party that are indoctrinated with unbending political philosophy that equalization is the objective, Bhattarai is simply trying to lower the bar for excellence. You don't need to destroy centers of excellence in the name of providing equal opportunity. Instead, government's focus should be on increasing investment in public school system and improve their quality. That's how you provide opportunities to the underprivileged, not by eliminating private sector participation. The government should leave private schools and private hospitals alone.

Eliminating private participation in education and healthcare sectors, or any other sector, for that matter, will not only stifle the spirit of promoting excellence, but will also be a bad economic policy. It will drive away capital investment from abroad. Nepal badly needs foreign capital investment to develop its resource base.

If Bhattarai has problem with certain run-of-the-mill private schools and healthcare centers whose quality of service is questionable, then he ought to be able to control them. He has the power and the wherewithal to do so. You don't amputate the whole limb if your finger is hurting.

Eliminating private sector involvement in education and healthcare sectors is the surest way of eliminating the basis for promoting excellence. Without excellence, Nepal government might as well forget making Nepal competitive in today's globalized economy.

Bhattarai also remarked that "the government is preparing to distribute academic certificates through open universities to those individuals who could not receive formal education due to their involvement in the Maoist war." Is Bhattarai for real? Has he lost his mind? Well, he might as well go ahead and distribute Ph.D.'s to all his Maoist "friends who could not pursue education due to their involvement in the armed conflict." This is too bizarre that it isn't even funny.


From Penury to Prosperity? With Maoists' Political Goal of Communism?

>> Monday, October 20, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | October 20, 2008

Is the governing Communist Party of Nepal - Maoist (CPN-M) in disarray? Mutually incongruous statements have recently come out in the media from the party supremo Prachanda and his second-ranking aide Baburam Bhattarai.

Finance Minister Bhattarai is quoted by the Kathmandu-based Nepali Times on October 13 as saying at a talk program in Washington, DC recently that "our ultimate goal is communism... I don't want to be dishonest." Bhattarai was in the U.S. capital to attend the joint annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In the recent weeks, when he was in New Delhi, Bhattarai pleaded for foreign direct investment (FDI) in Nepal. Prime Minister Prachanda himself has, on several different occasions, stated Nepal welcomes foreign capital investment.

While in the U.S., Bhattarai traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts and gave a talk entitled "Penury to Prosperity: A Talk On Nepal's Economic Future" at Harvard University. He dreams of lifting Nepal from penury to prosperity and yet unabashedly states that his party's political goal is to turn Nepal into a communist state. Not going to happen. Mr. Bhattarai ought to quit day dreaming. How about being pragmatist and moving away from the far left edge of the political spectrum? He can give swaggering political statements about his political objective, but he cannot convince the global community that Nepal, under the Maoists' long-term rigid and ideological agenda of establishing a communist state, would be a safe bet for foreign investment.

Nepal needs three things for economic growth. First, much needed capital for increasing productivity. Nepal can raise this capital, for example, by inviting FDI. Second, foreign markets for Nepali goods and services to grow Nepal's economy and earn the much needed foreign currency to pay for import of goods and services that Nepal does not have. Third, productive workforce. Nepal needs to create a productive workforce rapidly. Foreign investors with lot of capitals will not come to Nepal if Nepal cannot provide trained workers and open up royalty-generating productive resource base. These are the three essential elements for putting the country on a path of economic development. Nepal needs no miracle. If politicians are willing to be pragmatic, then Nepal can achieve success.

One essential precondition for FDI is for any foreign company, whether owned by foreigners or by non-resident Nepalis, to be able to invest in Nepal without the fear of their capital investment ever being nationalized. Nobody will come to invest in Nepal if the country's finance minister blusters in international arena that his party's political goal is turning the country into a communist state where the state could deprive the owner of the company the right to property. The second essential precondition is the ability of the foreign company that establishes an affiliate company in Nepal to exercise control (in terms of percentage ownership and voting rights within the company) over its forein affiliate.

In order for a country to grow economically, its government has to play less obstructionist role and more of facilitator's role. Hard-nosed socialism, let alone communism, will not afford the free-market confidence that the forein investors need and want. By any which name, government intervention and ownership of public enterprises is a recipe for killing market competition and efficiency.

What Nepal needs is a free market system with only oversight and enforcement role for the government when market fails. Nothing more. No government ownership of Nepal Oil Corporation. No monopoly ownership of electric utility company. No government ownership of Nepal Telecom. No government ownership of Nepal Airlines. No government ownership of commodity production and supplies distribution enterprises. No more monopolies.

It's a shame that Nepal government more or less has a monopoloy ownership and operational controls over these enterprises and yet can't provide the basic supplies and services that people need. It's a shame that Nepal government owns Nepal Oil Corporation, the monopolistic behemoth, whose only job is to import, store and distribute fuel oils, and still scarcity forces consumers to form a lineup for hours to be able to purchase a few liters of gasoline. It's a shame that the government owns the only electric utility in the country and still almost all homes in Kathmandu, the country's capital, have to endure power outage for 4-8 hours a day, 6 days a week. When you are in that kind of situation, you have to wonder if Nepal is yet in the 21st Century.

In all these enterprises and more others, we need less government control and intervention, not more. How do the Maoists like Prachanda and Bhattarai think of growing the country's economy when their political dream is to establish a communist state? We don't have to look much beyond Nepal's neighbors to see that it is by introducing liberal economic policies that both India and China have been able to remove bureaucratic hurdles for transaction and investment and put the countries on a path to achieving double digit growth rates. India liberalized its capital flow policies in trade and investment sectors and is now reaping the benefits in terms of high economic growth rates. China liberalized its economy in 1979 when Deng Xiaoping trashed Mao's stiffling communist economic policies all but in name. Soviet empire collapsed in 1992 under the dead-weight of failing communist economic policies.

Maoists' robotic use of rhetorics and propaganda of fighting the feudals in Nepal is getting a little tiring. Nepal must focus on increasing productivity, growing the economy and creating wealth. If you don't have wealth, not any kind of wealth and land redistribution is going to put the country on the path to prosperity.

Gone are the days of closed economy of communism. Nepal needs international partners to help gain economic momentum. This is the era of globalization. Mr. Bhattarai, quit your swagger, be a pragmatist, and stop being a hurdle to taking the country on a road to liberty, human rights, freedom of assembly and speech, multi-party political competition, right to property, and open economy with little government control. It's only with open mind, not closed, that Nepalis will be able to lift the country from penury to prosperity.

Photo Credit:
Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images


Stepping Up Canada-Nepal Diplomatic Relations: A Task for Non-Resident Nepali Association

>> Tuesday, October 7, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | October 8, 2008

Canada does not have an embassy or even a consulate general in Kathmandu. Nepalis who wish to visit Canada have to submit their visa applications in New Delhi. Several years ago, the brother of a Nepali living in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb, applied for a visitor visa (Canadian government calls it Temporary Resident Visa) to come visit him, who was in hospital for a major surgery. The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi summoned him to the Indian capital for an interview. He had submitted with his application a letter from the sick brother's hospital, endorsing his application. The visa officer denied him visa. Reason? The visa officer said, no sufficient connection with Nepal. The brother applied again the next day, with no additional documentation. The High Commission invited him for another interview couple of days later. They granted him a visa. He spent six days in New Delhi.

A year later, another Nepali from Vancouver invited his mother-in-law and sister-in-law for a visit to Canada. They sent their visa applications to New Delhi from Kathmandu. The mother-in-law got her visa, without having to travel to New Delhi. However, the sister-in-law was asked to come for an interview in New Delhi. She was denied visa three times before being granted it the fourth time she submitted her application with additional documentation. The reason for visa denial was the same--no sufficient connection with Nepal. One piece of additional documentation she submitted the fourth time was a letter from this Vancouver Nepali, which made the case that the sister-in-law has a well-established family in Kathmandu and the temptation to default on her obligation to leave Canada at the end of the visa expiration date just did not exist.

Then there was a Nepali couple who was traveling to the United States as guests of a U.S.Congressman to attend an international event in Washington, D.C. The wife had a sister living in Richmond, another Vancouver suburb. The sister in Richmond had just given birth to a baby. It was a perfect time for the couple to extend their travel from the U.S. to Canada. A month before leaving for the U.S., they submitted their visa application at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi in person. For the couple, to go to New Delhi wasn't much of a big deal as it was for the previous visitors, as they had a well established business in New Delhi. The visa officer denied them visa even upon resubmitting application for the third time. They traveled to Washington, D.C., hopeful that they'd be granted a Canadian visa if they applied in Washington, D.C. They were hopeful especially given the fact that they were guests of a U.S. Congressman. Guess what? They were denied visa there, too. Reason? Since the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi had already denied them visa, Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. would not consider revising the decision.

These are real examples and they defy logic of common sense. But, as much as they are deplorable, I'm not here to fight the discretionary powers of the visa officers in Canadian embassies around the world. The one singular point I want to make here is this--Nepali travelers who want to visit the U.S. have less hassle to go through in obtaining a U.S. visitor visa than those who want to travel to Canada. The reason is simple. Canada does not have an embassy or a consulate general in Kathmandu.

Having a Canadian embassy in Kathmandu has benefit not only for prospective Nepali travelers but also for those Nepalis who are Canadian residents or Canadian citizen who travel to Nepal. In February this year, I traveled to Nepal. A week before I was traveling back to Canada, I lost a briefcase with my Canadian travel documents. Without those travel documents, I wouldn't be able to return to Canada. So, I contacted the local Canadian Cooperation Office in Kathmandu to ask how I could obtain replacement travel documents. The CCO official told me it would take approximately 7 to 10 days to obtain such a document because the application for such a document would have to be sent to New Delhi. I did not have 7 days, let alone 10. Now, it's a different matter that I found the lost briefcase in time. I had left it in a taxicab. The cab driver had the good sense and honesty to go through the trouble of finding my address and bring it back to me. Needless to say, he received a reward and, more importantly, my gratitude. If there was a local Canadian embassy in Kathmandu, I would have likely obtained replacement travel documents on an emergency basis.

More involved diplomatic relations is important for Nepal politically, too. More intense diplomatic relations would enhance Nepal's image and its sovereignty in the international arena. It is through diplomatic relations that a country raises its international profile. Nepal needs to stand up with international partners and grow out of China-India spheres of influence. Because diplomacy works in reciprocity, Nepal should consider establishing an embassy in Canada or at least a consulate general. Then Nepal government should enter into dialog with Canadian government and invite Canadian diplomatic presence in Kathmandu.

Nepali social organizations in Canada have, on occasions, lobbied the federal government in Ottawa to establish a consulate general or at least a visa office in Kathmandu. I know that Nepal Cultural Society of British Columbia (NCSBC), for example, has lobbied Ottawa two-three times in the past years. Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) always sends a twin set of letters, one from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and another from the Minister of International Trade, with a stock answer: Canada has no plans of establishing a consulate general in Kathmandu at this time as it is not economically justifiable. It is incredible that a rich country like Canada uses such a feeble logic as a justification against opening a consulate general in a foreign country. Canada has a high commission (i.e., embassy) in New Delhi, and consulates general in Chandigarh, Chennai and Mumbai. Not many years ago, Indians in Canada successfully lobbied Ottawa to establish a consulate general in Chandigarh.

Of course, there are not as many Nepalis in Canada as there are Indians. So, this calls for pooling the strength of our Nepali diaspora in lobbying both the Canadian and Nepali governments to establish residential diplomatic presence in each other's capitals on the basis of reciprocity. For both countries it would be an investment worth its money.

The Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), its international and national coordination councils, including the newly constituted NRN-Canada National Coordination Council should initiate a concerted campaign to lobby both Canadian and Nepali governments to step up their diplomatic presence in each other's capitals. NRNA should take this up as a priority task for 2009. It's time for NRNA to grow new wings and add diplomacy as a role for it to act on, in addition to philanthropy and foreign direct investment.


Wall Street Crisis to Main Street Crisis: Are We Witnessing a Paradigm Shift in Free Market Economy?

>> Saturday, October 4, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | October 4, 2008

Is America witnessing a paradigm shift unfolding in its economic system? America is the bastion of free market economy. Those who profess and bet their life that market can do no wrong are squirming today. The notion that market can do no wrong has turned out to be a myth. The myth has been shattered into 700 billion pieces by the financial crisis in Wall Street. The Wall Street crisis has spawned crisis in stock markets and crisis in credit markets. The crisis has the potential to melt down the capitalist society of the United States.

America has mostly trusted an unfettered market economy largely free of government regulations. Those who believed in Milton Friedman's Chicago School of free-market economic thought labeled attempts to impose any regulation on market a meddling attempt of the socialists. The idea professed that market itself rectifies any failure it faces. In the political sphere, it was mostly the conservatives, the Republicans, that didn't want to tolerate market regulation.

The current financial crisis in the U.S. has shaken up the presidential campaign. The Republicans have been hammered in the polls. Two months ago, on August 2nd, I wrote a blog on U.S. election-year energy politics in the U.S., in which I referred to "shagging economy, recession-like situation and a real estate mortgage crisis of astronomical proportion."

The point I made was that if Barack Obama wanted to win the presidential election, he must not let John McCain let the American electorate dwell on McCain's pet and strongest vault of weapons against the Democrats--national security, and that the Democrats must make the American voters turn their attention to issues that McCain is weak at--economy flirting with recession and the Main Street America struggling with the real estate mortgage crisis that is of an astronomical proportion. As presidential candidate Bill Clinton's star campaign staff in 1992, James Carville, Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel, George Stephenopolos, and Dee Dee Myers would say: It's economy, stupid! Well, this election season, it is economy, again. George Bush and his treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, put a figure on that astronomic proportion: $700 billion.

Two Saturdays ago, President Bush sent a proposed Bill to U.S. Congress, asking for an astronomical $700 billion to buy illiquid (read: bad) financial assets from financial institutions, mostly related to housing mortgage. The logic behind this astronomical funding request is deceptively simple. The $700 billion dollars that Bush asked from the Congress will be used by the Treasury Department to buy bad mortgage-related securities and then Treasury will hold on to the securities and sell them at an undetermined time later at a profit. Hopefully.

Well, on the surface, the logic does not seem to have any problem. But the problem is that nobody, even Secretary Paulson, whose brainchild this proposal seems to be, knows if this logic will work. Illiquid assets can't be converted into cash. Paulson himself admitted two Sundays ago with NBC's Meet the Press with Tom Brokaw and ABC's This Week with George Stephenapoulos, that there is risk to the tax payers in the proposal.

Just so we understand the magnitude of the requested fund to bail out financial institutions, let me just put the number in perspective. One billion is 1,000 million. $700 billion is $700,000 million. That's $700,000,000,000. And that's all taxpayer's money. The 2007 United States population estimate is 301 million (301,139,947, to be precise). This means each American (man, woman and child) will be on the hook for approximately $2,325 for the "rescue" of Wall Street firms. An American family of four will be on the hook for almost $9,300. In 2006, 20 percent of Americans earned less than $19,178 per year before tax. For someone who earns less than that amount of money a year, $2,325 used by the Federal government to rescue financial institutions is a huge burden.

It is more of a burden because the intended results of investing $700 billion to rescue the failing investment banks are not guaranteed. Two Sundays ago, Secretary Paulson admitted to Tom Brokaw and George Stephanapoulos on Meet the Press and This Week Sunday morning television shows, respectively, that he cannot guarantee that the investment of $700 billion will work. He said there is risk involved. In other words, if the $700 billion rescue package doesn't work, American people will be bearing a colossal financial burden for years, perhaps even decades, to come.

When Secretary Paulson began to lobby for $700 billion of taxpayer money to bailout Wall Steet investment banks and other consumer banks in credit market, the Bush Administration started the lobbying in an overtly imperious manner. As a result, Secretary Paulson ended up irking the U.S. Congress and outraging the American taxpayers. He made it sound as though the Administration was asking for a mere $7 million or even $700 million. The lobbying was laced with outrageous logic and and yielded no ground for reasoning.

First, he said the Congress has to dole out the $700 billion funding within a matter of days; otherwise, he warned, the financial market would collapse and the American economy would slide into deep recession. He never gave any explanation how that would happen and when it is too late to do something.

Second, Paulson wanted the Congress to have no oversight power over his authority. Bush Administration's bailout bill explicitly stated that treasury secretary's decisions would not be open to challenge in any court of law or a Congressional oversight review. Was the Bush Administration for real? They wanted a mind-boggling amount of money from the Congress and they wanted the Congress to have no power to ask any questions?

Third, Paulson didn't want to limit compensation for Wall Street executives who'd participate in the Federal government bailout program. When he was interviewed by Tom Brokaw and George Stephenopolous two Sundays ago, Paulson said something that'd defy any sense of logic and propriety. He more or less said that the government should not impose a punitive action against the Wall Street CEOs. That's incredible. Paulson wants to give $700 billion to failing financial institutions and he's okay if the CEOs of those institutions make millions of dollars in compensation out of hardworking taxpayers' money? What could one expect from a treasury secretary who was in Wall Street before he came to the government and will most likely go back to Wall Street? He was merely protecting his turf at the cost of average taxpayers. He wanted to protect the interest of those greedy CEOs who created this gigantic mess in the first place.

Paulson said the $700 billion package should be swift, clean and should not have punitive provision (i.e., compensation limits for Wall Street executives). Taxpayers are paying this $700 billion and the government should have no oversight authority? What does he want, privatize profits and socialize loss? That's incredible.

This mess is a little too complex for most people to understand. Paul Krugman, a Princeton University economics professor and New York Times op-ed columnist, wrote one of the most lucid articles, "Cash for Trash" in the New York Times on September 21st, explaining the situation. How did the problem come about and what is the implication of the Wall Street meltdown?

The Wall Street meltdown is largely due to overissuanceof mortgage-backed securities by the government-backed mortgage behemoths, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. First-time home-buyers got easy credit from banks at sub-prime rate. Banks offered mortgage at sub-prime rates because they wanted to increase credit flow. In the process, the simple verification step to check the ability of the first-time home-buyers to pay back the mortgage loan got bypassed. This all happened even when the housing prices skyrocketed abnormally. The housing prices went up so high the high prices became unsustainable.

Then the housing prices plunged approximately two years ago. People who bought expensive houses were suddenly left with houses worth two-thirds as much. And when sub-prime rates no longer remained sub-prime, the mortgage payments exceeded the ability of the homeowners to meet their monthly payment obligations. They couldn't sell the house because it would mean a drastic loss. Foreclosures then began to sweep across America, leaving people at the mercy of the vicious circle of economy. Their income didn't go up because the economy dwindled into recession-like situation, with economic activity declining significantly across the economy over a significant period of time. When the number of foreclosures began to soar through the roof, the lenders were left with worthless mortgage-backed securities. These are the bad, illiquid assets.

As long as the banks were saddled with these bad assets, they'd have little capital to loan credits to businesses and individuals. Then the credit market froze and businesses began to run into trouble to get credit to do their normal day-to-day businesses and meet short-term financial needs. This threatened the economy, as it had the potential to wipe off employment, productivity, and other economic activities.

For some big, venerable Wall Street financial institutions like Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, Merryl Lynch, AIG Assurance, the only recourse left was to file for bankruptcy. The 158-year-old Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns went down. Merryl Lynch got bought over by Bank of America. AIG Assurance got bailed out by the federal government, as were the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The government thought these companies were too large let down. The government stepped in to infuse the credit market with cash and so Bush approached the Congress for that cash. As Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post said, if those companies are too large to let down, then maybe they are too large to exist.

I think cash infusion is necessary, but the way it was planned and the provisions stitched into the original bailout bill were almost bogus.

What political implication this financial meltdown has for America? This has changed the color of the presidential race in the United States. As I wrote in August, John McCain's best chance at winning the election is by fear-mongering and putting topmost priority to national security. That's his trump card.

I wrote in August that if Barack Obama wanted to trump up McCain, Obama would have to turn the page away from McCain's pet subject of national security and turn the focus on economy. The Wall Street meltdown did that for Obama, although, I'm sure, he wasn't hoping for it to happen that way. Regardless of how it happened, McCain became the loser, as is now evident in polls across the country.

Perhaps the most compelling lesson of this mess is that it put the Republicans at a tough spot. First, the Republicans had an ideological stance against government intervention of the market. They said the market is able to rectify its own problems. Mostly yes, but not always. That has now turned out to be a myth. The Republicans themselves are now biting their own tongue and accept some level of government intervention and regulation.

Second, the Republicans never got tired of giving speeches against "big" government and accused the Democrats of spawning a big government. With $700 billion dollar under one person, the treasury secretary, the Bush Administration has created a government juggernaut. Who would administer this whopping pile of money? Will the Treasury Department hire private firms to manage this money, giving sweetheart deals to favored companies? Time will tell.

For now, it is quite apparent that there is no such thing as pure free market. "Free" markets function well and in the interest of the public, if the people's representatives have a power to keep an eye on them. Is this the end of capitalism? I don't think so, but the days of unbridled greed in Wall Street may be over. Also likely gone are the days of easy mortgage loan.

America is not turning away from capitalism, but it surely won't be able to let the markets run amok with little or no regulation to keep them under control. Is this a paradigm shift in free market economy of the United States? You tell me.


Nepal: Parliamentary System of Government Under Attack from Communist Parties

>> Monday, September 29, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | September 29, 2008

The undercurrents of the Constituent Assembly deliberations on the structure of future system of government are rising up to the surface. Two major communist factions currently in power have started questioning the usefulness of the Westminster model of parliamentary system. CPN-Maoist supremo Prachanda has reportedly said that his party has no faith in "parliamentary democracy nor can it establish a communist state immediately." CPN-UML leader Jhalnath Khanal has said parliamentary system in the last decade and a half "has achieved nothing."

The centrist Nepali Congress Party leaders Girija Koirala and Ramchandra Poudel have strongly denounced the rhetorics of the two communist parties and cautioned them against attacking democracy.

Two issues are involved here and they need clarification. First, the political intention of the two ruling coalition partners, the CPN-M and CPN-UML. Second, Constituent Assembly deliberations on the future system of government.

From what Prachanda has said in his various interviews, it becomes clear that the Maoists nurse an ambition to usher in a communist utopia, which, in its pure form, is to vanquish all political opposition and run the country under a communist authoritarian rule. Isn't that essentially what King Mahendra did in 1962 when he established the authoritarian partyless Panchayat system of government after disbanding political parties a year earlier? If Mahendra had been Prachanda, he would have gone a step further and, in the name of eradicating feudalism, triggered a massive redistribution of wealth by using force.

A communist utopia is an ideological dream of hardliner Maoist ideologues. Moderate communists recognize that a communist utopia with dictatorship of the proletariat is impractical to achieve or with which to govern or both. Prachanda should have no doubt in his mind that his intention of taking the country down this path would meet with vigorous political challenge, both in the Constituent Assembly and in the streets across the country. Will he be successful? This is a question about democracy.

What is not essentially a question about democracy is the deliberations on the future system of government. I believe questioning parliamentary system of government is not necessarily anti-democratic. However, merely questioning a system of government is not enough; you have to come up with a legitimate alternative. So, what is the alternative the communists have in mind? If they want to adopt an existing government model around the world, they have to bring it forward. Do they want an American system of government where there is an elected executive president with an unelected cabinet, whose power is under check and balance by that of the elected legislative body, the U.S. Congress? Do they want French and Russian models where there is an elected executive president with a prime minister and a cabinet drawn from the elected parliament?

Nepali Congress, too, has to explain why parliamentary system is the only synonym for democracy. This system started in Britain, where there has been a monarchy that is more or less supported and accepted by the public. Obviously, they could not have conceived a presidential system and deprived the monarch the ceremonial role as a head of state. Why must Nepal have a parliamentary system and could not have a presidential system like in the U.S., whose power is kept in check and balance by a powerful legislature? Are frequent fall of a governments and the political king-making role used as a means of political skulduggery by smaller parties in return for political favors from large parties, and party-swapping for personal gains aberration of democracy in the parliamentary system? Does a clear separation of power between the executive and the legislative branches of the government, which is lacking in the parliamentary system, not have its value? I think these are the questions that the political leaders ought to deliberate on in the coming weeks and months and inform the general public.

The elected Constituent Assembly members have a historically important task ahead of them. This is no time for political demagoguery. People are keeping them under lens.


Nepal's Maoist-led Government Gets a First Dose of Failure

>> Monday, September 22, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | September 22, 2008

Dogmatic pronouncements on people's faith and culture can hardly stand the test of times. Finance minister Baburam Bhattarai made a decision to cut off funding for the celebration of the age-old Indrajatra festival, apparently without the consent of the cabinet or consultation with his peer, the Minister for Culture.

This issue has demonstrated that Mr. Bhattarai has made mistakes at multiple levels. We know that when a minister, without cabinet approval, starts trespassing on the jurisdiction of other cabinet colleagues, that invites controversy. Mr. Bhattarai either seemed oblivious of this administrative faux pas or simply didn't care. Was it a simple administrative oversight or a proof that the second in command in the CPN-Maoist party has disdain for his own cabinet colleagues?

By cutting off funding for the celebration of Kathmandu's festive icon that Indrajatra is, Bhattarai has proven himself to be a myopic politician burdened with his communist ideological baggage with thinly veiled intention of turning the society into one devoid of faith and culture. Somebody needs to remind him that he ought to quit dreaming of such a day.

As a government minister and most definitely as a finance minister, Bhattarai does have an administrative right and power to make decisions concerning fund allocation. But, his decision to cut funding for a cultural celebration smacked of a hideous intention that can only be interpreted as the first step towards making an attack on people's faith and culture.

When his budget decision incited public demonstration in the streets of Kathmandu, he confronted his own senior cabinet colleague, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bamdev Gautam. Bhattarai reportedly threatened Gautam, who is from the governing coalition partner CPN-UML, that if Gautam didn't send the police to take control of the demonstrating masses, he'd send his Maoist YCL members to do it. YCL (or the Young Communist League) is a youth militia of the Maoist party, who engages in vigilantism. That is astounding. A senior minister, who is second in command in his ruling party, threatens to use militia against Nepali people; and he expects the people to remain docile? Mr. Bhattarai needs to wake up from his slumber.

On Sunday, taken aback by the ferocity of demonstration and sensing a political mess he has gotten himself into, Bhattarai relented and issued a press release, effectively withdrawing his previous decision to cut off funding.

The issue is not really about funding, which, I hear, is only a matter of about Rs. 15,000. What's Rs. 15,000? That's only a little over $200. Public outrage surely can't be because of that meagre amount of money. Anybody can raise that much money within a matter of minutes. The issue is about a perceived attack on people's faith and culture, an attack that is steeped with communist social ideology.

This is not the first time the Maoist politicians have displayed their disdain for icons of cultural significance. Not too long ago, a Maoist politician was reported by the media as saying that the the age-old tradition of revering Kumari, the living Goddess, is outdated and must be ended. Such statements bathed in political ideology are sensational and only incite public outrage.

Bhattarai, a communist ideologue, together with his Maoist party, has tasted a first dose of failure on this issue. Too bad for him, he brought it upon himself without anybody helping him. Next time he has an itch for making a unilateral decision on matters of cultural and religious significance, he shall be better off consulting with the stakeholders first.



>> Friday, September 19, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | September 19, 2008

When he looked
She saw
When he saw
She smiled
When he smiled
She felt
When he felt
She knew
When he knew
She loved
When he loved
It was serendipity


Time to Say Goodbye

>> Monday, September 15, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | September 15, 2008

I sent you a red rose in a bottle
With a message of love that is true
Not knowing how so very little
It would bear any meaning to you

I sent you my smile with the Sun
And love that is everlasting and deep
Not knowing how you'd spurn
The gift of love I sent wrapped in leaf

I sent you my best wishes with the birds
Wishes for a day and a year full of happiness
But amidst the wishes of many a shepherds
Mine evaporated with some rapidness

I sent you my love every single day
For that's only what I had left to give
But sadly you pushed my love away
It seems you only wanted me to leave

My heart's still for you, full of love and desire
Love and caring's still what I have left to give
But my love is no longer what you seem to require
So, it's now time to say goodbye and leave


चन्द्रमालाई ब्रिहस्पतिको शुभकामना

>> Wednesday, September 10, 2008

अजय प्रधान | सेप्टेम्बर १०, २००८

मध्यरातमा उठी, आकाश तिर हेरी
चन्द्रमालाई सम्बोधन गर्छ त्यो ब्रिहस्पति।

म गायक होइन, नत्र म
आज तिम्रो गीत गाउँथे।

संगीतकार पनि होइन, नत्र म
आज तिमीलाई संगीतको धूनले बोलाउँथे।

प्रक्रिती होइन, नत्र म
आज तिमीलाई फूलले सिँगार्थे।

कलाकार पनि होइन, नत्र म
आज तिम्रो चित्र कोर्थे।

न त हुँ म देवता नै, नत्र म
आज तिमीलाई यो संसार नै दिन्थे।

म त सिर्फ तिम्रो उपासक हुँ
चन्द्रमाको सामुन्ने जाबो एउटा तारा हुँ।

म खास हुँ नै के र
तिम्रो लागि केही गर्न सकुँ?

म सँग छ नै के र
तिमीलाई दिन सकुँ?

सिवाय मुटुभरिको माया
अनी मन भरिको शुभकामना।

अनी आजको तिम्रो बिशेष उत्सबमा
मेरो पनि सहभागिता।

I believe this photo was taken from MystyIsles of St. George Island, Alaska. The photo shows the luminous moon and a tiny-looking Jupiter (ब्रिहस्पति) to the lower left of the Moon. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Photographer: Unknown
Photo source:


When a Kiss was More than Just a Kiss

>> Friday, September 5, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | Sept. 5, 2008

He returned
She looked

He paused
She waited

He smiled
She sighed

He held her
She held her breath

He kissed her
And she swooned and melted

Someone clicked
And the world saw

This is probably the most famous picture in history of a man kissing a woman. The man was a sailor, the woman a nurse, the place was the Times Square in New York City, and the day was the V-J Day on August 14, 1945. The day was the celebration of Japan's surrender in the World War II. The man and the woman did not know each other. The identity of the kissers have been speculated but still remains a mystery. Besides the crowd cheering the exuberant sailer and the surprised nurse, there was a third person in that scene that day. That person was Alfred Eisenstaedt, a Life magazine's photographer who shot this iconic picture of celebration, exhileration, relief, joy and victory.


Nostalgia: A Son Misses His Father

>> Saturday, August 30, 2008

I wrote this exactly one month ago today. Today is Father's Day in Nepal. I rededicate this in memory of my beloved father.
- Ajay (August 30, 2008)

By AJAY PRADHAN | July 30, 2008

The stream of consciousness that we call mind is often dominated by one of its strongest manifestations--memory. And when you add longing to it, it becomes nostalgia. Yes, I am nostalgic today. I wish I had a time machine so that I could not only go back down the memory lane, but also live the life as it was many years ago. Today, my nostalgia takes me back to the earliest years of schooling that I can still remember... life of a little boy outside the secured confines of his home.

I think I was not even 5 years old at that time, probably just 4. I went to Montessori School in Kathmandu. Montessory system is a method of pre-schooling based on overall child development. The emphasis is on self-directed activities. Children are encouraged to be driven by curiosities, engage in self-directed activities, but still under the supervision of teachers. It is the teachers' responsibility to make sure that the learning environment is adapted to the child's learning level. The system was started by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian teacher, in the late 19th Century.

Many years have passed since my Montessori days, but I still remember some of the things from those days. There are certain things I vividly remember about those pre-school days, particularly one "traumatic" experience... "traumatic" for a child of about 4 years in age. Some memories are just hazy.

I remember that we had a security guard whose job was to ensure the security of our residence. It was his duty to take me to school and bring back home everyday. I remeber he often carried me on his shoulders. To the best of my recollection, the school was located at the northwest corner of Rani Pokhari.

I remember one activity in particular. We were given wooden blocks and puzzles to play with, the kind where small blocks have to be placed in the appropriate holes in a larger block or nested in multiple levels in the appropriate order. Quite a feat for 4 year-olds.

Curiosities picked my mind from the childhood. One day, during lunch time, all the children sat in rows, to be served cookies and milk. We each got an empty glass and some thin arrowroot cookies and then we waited for the milk to arrive. I looked at my round cookies and then at the empty glass. I got curious and wanted to see how the cookies would fit into the glass. Well, they fit right in, midway down the glass. At the same time, the milk lady came and started pouring milk in children's glasses. She stood before me, almost starting to pour milk in my glass and when she spotted cookies in the glass, she stopped and without a single word she passed me by.

I frantically tried to remove the cookies from the glass. The milk lady turned her head, saw my predicament, but moved right on ahead. When it became obvious to me that I wasn't going to be able to remove my cookies from the glass and that she wouldn't give me my milk, I became overcome with emotion. As I was the only boy that didn't get milk I felt that even though the cookies fit in, even though the small blocks fit in, I didn't fit in. I felt traumatized and I started crying.

My little mind had a question when I came home. I asked my dad, "Buwa, why'd the milk lady not give me my milk? All I wanted to do was to see if the cookies would fit in the glass." Dad said, "I appreciate your curiosity. It's good to be curious. That's how we learn. And today's experience should teach you one other thing. Be prepared to deal with or live with the answers your curiosities bring." A father was helping his son to tread his paths of life. That lesson has never been lost on me ever since.

I miss my dad. He sends little blessings to me from his place in heaven every single day of my life.



>> Thursday, August 28, 2008

अजय प्रधान | अगस्ट २८, २००८

त्यो यात्री
डाँडा पारी जाने उस्को
उड्छ उमंग
माथि ।

अपेक्ष्या बोकी
हिँड्छ उ सोची
यात्रामा उस्को
समयले साथ् पो
छोड्ने होकी ।

भेट्छ उस्ले
एउटी सहयात्री
हिन्ड्छन दुबै
सँग सँगै
रात्री ।

जब पुग्छन
डाँडा पारी
भन्छिन सहयात्री
पुग्यो तिम्रो
साथ् अब
जान देउ साथी ।

बस्छन उनी
भारी मन लीइ
मुस्कान उस्को
सम्झी ।

Photo Credits and Notes:

1. B/W Photo of the little hoy and the little girl holding hands: Not sure who the photographer is, but I found it in a blog owned by JacLin (Jacqueliine) Wong. Since I found it in her blog, I'll give her the credit.

2. I shot the second picture, which of the Pitt Lake in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Canada, in 2004.


Foreign Affairs: Ghost of Sikkim, Nepal's Foreign Policy and National Integrity

>> Saturday, August 23, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | August 23, 2008

I hear angry and frustrated clamours, some stifled and some full-throttled, among the concerned and sensitive Nepalis that Nepal is on the way to being "Sikkimized" by India. It seems the anger and frustrations have been fanned by several recent events. First, the new republic's first Vice President, who was a member of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), used Hindi language to take the oath of office, angering the general public and giving rise to the suspicion that India has a grand design in the making. Second, the emergence of MJF as a credible political force and power-broker and king-maker appears to have unsettled some sections of Nepali general public, who suspect MJF as a pawn of India. Third, many Nepali politicians and the media see thinly disguised political power-peddling and political consultations with Nepali political parties by the Indian ambassador Rakesh Sood not only as a simple breach of diplomatic norms but also as an open meddling by India in Nepal's internal affairs.

I understand the reasons for the anger and frustrations against India, but I don't share the pessimism that India will "Sikkimize" Nepal, mainly for two reasons. First, Nepal's modern foreign policy history is starkly different from what Sikkim ever had. Second, Nepal's strategic geopolitical situation has much stronger stock value than Sikkim ever did. It shares substantially longer border with India and Tibetan Autonomous Region and provides both neighbouring countries to the north and the south a strategic geopolitical buffer. Sikkim's small size wasn't enough to be in that enviable strategic position.

When it comes to India, the suspicion and paranoia of Nepali people north of the Chure-Bhavar range take flights of fancy. To some extent, the suspicion is justified, but for the most part, the unfettered paranoia is an unfortunate departure from the real dangers that India poses to Nepal. I think the real danger is India's unspoken expectation of subservience from the land-locked Nepal in return for some favors in transit of goods that Nepal needs. I think our single-minded obsession with the unsubstantiated notion that India is deceptively working to "Sikkimize" Nepal is not only a little too far-fetched but also unfortunate and misdirected.

India annexed Sikkim, a tiny Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between Nepal and Bhutan along the Himalayan range, and declared it India's 22nd state in April 1975. Although a sovereign country, Sikkim had already ceded to India after India's independence in 1947 sovereign authority in three important state affairs--defence, foreign relations, and communication. After the British left India in 1947, under a treaty signed on December 12, 1950, Jawaharlal Nehru had given Sikkim a special protectorate status, still maintaining Sikkim's independent status under the Chogyal, the monarch of Sikkim.

The Chogyal began to show increasing desire to chart an independent course of foreign relations for Sikkim. When Indira Gandhi became prime minister of India in 1966, she showed little patience for the Chogyal's authority and even less tolerance for Sikkim's desire for independence. Internal political turmoil in Sikkim eventually gave India the pretext to wrest power from the Chogyal and install its own administrative head to rule the country in 1973. The Chogyal wanted to renegotiate the 1950 Treaty between Sikkim and India and made attempts to establish independent foreign relations.

As an act of his desire to establish independent foreign relations, the Chogyal and his American-born socialite wife, Hope Cooke, traveled to Kathmandu in March 1975 to attend King Birendra's coronation and met with Chinese and Pakistani representatives. Moreover, while in Kathmandu, the Chogyal gave a press conference all but denouncing India as a hurdle in Sikkim's attempts to attaining international stature. The Chogyal instantly became India's bête noire.

The Chogyal's desire to break out of India's influence was commendable. But, he wasn't smart enough of a statesman or a politician. At a time when he needed much public support to stand up to India, he made no effort to end his political discrimination against the Sikkimese of ethnic Nepali origin. His political alienation of the ethnic Nepalis, who formed 75% of the population, proved fatally costly not only for this throne but also for the country.

The Chogyal had internal political problem to deal with. The public clamour for political freedom was rising. Several political organizations, especially Sikkim National Congress led by Kazi Lhendup Dorji and Sikkim Janata Congress, both favored by Sikkimese of ethnic Nepali origin, demanded political freedom and preferred to put emphasis on development within the country first, in contrast to the Chogyal's desire to break out of India's traditional role as Sikkim's master in the affairs of international relations. In the eyes of the Sikkimese of ethnic Nepali origin, the Chogyal was an unpopular autocratic ruler who ruled the country by sidelining them.

When the Chogyal returned to Sikkim from Kathmandu after attending King Birendra's coronation, Indian Army surrounded his palace on April 6, 1975. India stage-managed a referendum in Sikkim to decide whether Sikkimese wanted an independent Sikkim or favored assimilation into India. Ironically, the ethnic Nepali majority in Sikkim voted in favor of Sikkim's assimilation with India rather than endure the Chogyal's ethnic discrimination. The reign of King Palden Thondup Namgyal, the Chogyal of Sikkim came to an end and Sikkim became India's 22nd state on April 26, 1975, with Kazi Lhendup Dorji as the first Chief Minister of the new Indian state of Sikkim. Calling the referendum a charade, Nepalis in Kathmandu staged a massive demonstration against India.

Nepal never had the quasi-sovereign status that Sikkim had. Nepal has always vigorously sought to establish independent foreign relations with other countries, establishing foreign missions, embassies and consulates general in many countries. Nepal and China's diplomatic relations go back to the 7th Century, when they first exchanged emissaries with each other. Modern China of the post-1949 Cultural Revolution has never attempted to "Tibetize" Nepal, even though the ancient Chinese imperial regimes sought to bring Nepal under their sphere of influence as a tributary of China.

What ancient Chinese imperial regimes tried to do with Nepal, modern India, both under the British rule and the post-1947 independent one, actively tried, and still continues to do so, to bring and keep Nepal under its sphere of influence. In the modern era, the 1950 Treaty between Nepal and India is an example of India's zeal to keep Nepal under its sphere of influence.

India and Nepal signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship on July 31, 1950. No doubt, the 1950 Treaty was an unequal treaty between the two countries in some respects (e.g., Nepal's requirement to consult with India prior to importation of firearms from other countries); and the Treaty either must be ripped apart or renegotiated. The Treaty was an encroachment upon Nepal's sovereignty in intent than in design. This has been a major reason for great deal of anti-India sentiments in Nepal. To that extent, the resentment and bitter feelings that Nepalis have harbored against India is quite justified.

However, Nepalis have to recognize that the 1950 Treaty gave Nepal what Sikkim never had. Article 1 of the Treaty explicitly provided that "there shall be everlasting peace and friendship between the Government of India and the Government of Nepal. The two Governments agree mutually to acknowledge and respect the complete sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of each other." At least in letters and spirit, if not in action, India was bound by the Treaty to maintain peace with Nepal and not play the role of an aggressor. More importantly, India explicitly acknowledged that Nepal is an independent, sovereign country and India agreed to respect Nepal's territorial integrity.

Unless Nepal attempts to undermine India's territorial integrity on its own or as an abetment to a third country (e.g., China or Pakistan), India cannot dream of invading and annexing Nepal into Indian union.

Nepal has had a distinctly independent foreign relations and policy than Sikkim ever had in the modern times. Regionally, despite the signing of the 1950 Treaty with India, Nepal has strategically charted a diplomacy of equidistance with India and China. King Mahendra's attempt to establish a warm relationship with China is an example of this policy. King Birendra's declaration of Nepal as a Zone of Peace was an attempt to tell the world that Nepal wants to get out of the sphere of influence of India. Over a hundred different countries of the world endorsed Nepal as a ZOP, but because India never recognized the declaration, King Birendra's ZOP declaration didn't much do to keep India off Nepal's back. However, it signaled to the world that Nepal was a sovereign country with its independent foreign policy. That was a time when mutual distrust and animosity between China and India was at its peak.

Prior to the invasion and formal annexation of Tibet by China in 1950, India considered Tibet as a strategic buffer between China and India. When Tibet was annexed by China, India needed Nepal not only as an ally but also as a buffer against China. The Treaty of 1950 was a clear and distinct move by India to transform Nepal into a natural buffer against China along the almost 900 km Himalayan border to protect the most important of India's regions--the Indo Gangetic Plains of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. What does this mean? This means that if India annexes Nepal, India will be seeing eye to eye with the regional dragon, the People's Republic of China. Why'd India want to do that? Of course, India wants to keep Nepal under its sphere of influence, but I fail to see why India would want to remove a strategic, natural buffer that Nepal provides and be in an uncomfortable position to stare China in its eyes. I don't see a motivation for India to want to do that.

Therefore, it is up to Nepali people and their political leaders to be careful not to provide a motivation to India and rouse whatever interest it has to become an aggressive, expansionist force. Nepal should look both internally and externally. Internally, Nepal should not allow the Madheshi demand for "One Madhesh, One Pradesh" (one Madhesh, one province) to become a pretext for India to meddle in Nepal's internal politics. Nepali government should do all it can to not alienate any segment of Nepali society. Externally, Nepali government should show sensitivity and restraint when ultra nationalist Nepali lobby groups start talking about reclaiming Nepal's historical territory that it ceded to British India through the infamous Sugauli Treaty of December 2, 1815, Nepal must be very careful on this sensitive matter.

As long as Nepal seeks a mutually respectable bilateral relationships with India and China and plays a positive role in international community of nations as a peace-loving country and as a peace-keeper in areas of conflicts, Nepalis need not be scared of the ghost of Sikkim.

The opinion presented is mine. The factual information and dates, particularly those related to Sikkim, are referenced from the following sources:

Garver, John W. 2002. Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Twentieth Century. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.

Gupta, Ranjan. 1975. Sikkim: The Merger with India. Asian Survey, Vol. 15, No. 9, pp. 786-798. University of California Press.
History of Sikkim - Wikipedia (
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Sharma, Sudheer. 2001. 25 Years After Sikkim. Nepali Times, Issue No. 35 (March 23-29, 2001).


Fiction: As the Life Turns - Part 2

>> Friday, August 15, 2008

As the Life Turns
Part 2

By Ajay Pradhan | August 12, 2008

When the call ended, Ashay gave the phone back to Pranita, his hands trembling.

“You alright, Ashay?” asked Prakash, a little worried and a little curious. Prakash, a doctor, was one of Ashay’s closest friends. They had known each other since they were little boys. Prakash had gone to medical college in India; Ashay had gone to the U.S. for his undergraduate and graduate studies in Public Policy.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Ashay said, almost whispering, as he reached for a glass of water.

“Who was it?” Pranita asked, adding, “I wonder how she got my number and I’m surprised how she even knew we are together this evening.”

“It’s just someone I know,” Ashay answered, quickly adding, “someone I knew. Don’t worry, guys. Let’s enjoy the evening.” His mind was in turmoil, but he didn’t want to ruin the evening for his friends.

As the waitress brought their cocktails, Ashay ordered whiskey.

“What would you like to have? We’ve Jack Daniels, Chivas, Johnny Walker…”

Ashay stopped the waitress and said, “JD is fine. Double please, on the rocks.”

“With Coke?”

“No thanks. Straight up. And quick, please.”

The waitress brought the whiskey quickly. Ashay didn’t sip it; he drank it and ordered another double.

“You sure you’re okay?” Nisha asked Ashay.

He nodded his head, “Yeah.”

Later as the waitress brought their dinner, Ashay was lost in thought. Sheila was in his thoughts. He wondered what she was doing that moment in Vancouver. It was Saturday morning in Vancouver; Saturday night in Kathmandu. He wanted to call her on the phone. He just needed her by his side. In less than six moths, Sheila had become someone very important in his life. He never told Sheila or anyone how he felt about her. At that moment, he realized that he loved her.

* * *

Later that night, Apurba, the non-drinker, dropped Ashay at his home. Ashay had said he’d take a cab, but Apurba insisted that she’d give him ride as she lived not too far from his home in Lazimpat anyway. It was close to midnight.

“How was your evening, Ashu?” his mother asked.

“It was good, mom,” he answered, and asked, “what are you doing up this late? Don’t you have to sleep?”

“I was waiting for you to come back home, baba.” Baba was one of his mother’s affectionate terms for him. “Besides, I don’t need much sleep these days,” she didn’t want to make him feel guilty for her staying up late. “Did you eat well? Do you want some warm milk?”

“Nah, Mom, I’m good,” he said, and after a pause he added, “Ma, I want to talk to you.”

His mom looked at him for a moment. A smile came to her face. “You want to talk to me about some girl. Yes?” No one knew Ashay better than his mom. She could read his mind.

He smiled and nodded his head, “Yes, Ma.”

“Who’s it? Where’s she from?”

“Her name’s Sheila and she lives in Vancouver.” He took his wallet out of his pocket and pulled out a small picture of Sheila.

His mom’s face beamed as she looked at the picture. “She’s pretty. She’s beautiful.”

He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even know if he needed to say thanks to his mom.

“You’re in love with her?”

“Yes, Mom, I am.”

“What time is it in Vancouver? Call her up. I want to speak with her.”

“Ma, she doesn’t know."

“What do you mean she doesn’t know?”

“I’ve never told her.”

“You’ve never told her what? That you love her?”

“Yes, mom, I’ve never told her that I love her.”

“Why not? And you told me before you told her? You silly boy,” she smiled. “But, that’s okay. You call her and tell her now.”

“Ma, I think I need to look at her when I tell her this. I’ll tell her in Vancouver.”

“No, you call her tonight. It’s morning time in Vancouver and its Saturday. She should be home.”

“I’ll call her in the morning, Ma,” suddenly, he felt nervous, not knowing what Sheila might say when he told her his feelings. For the first time, he started fearing rejection. He didn’t want to think what he’d do if she rejected him.

“Don’t you wait, my boy. Go to your room and call her in your privacy.”

He looked at his mom, looking somewhat relieved, “Okay, Mama, I’ll call her tonight.”

He went to his room, sat on the edge of the bed near the phone, and without waiting any longer, he placed a long distance call to Sheila’s home in Vancouver. Sheila’s recorded message came on, “Hi, you’ve reached the home of Sheila and Sam. I can’t answer your phone right now … and neither can Sam, ha! ha! ... But if you leave your name and number and a brief message, I’ll return your call as soon as we can… well, as soon as I can. Sam won’t answer… ha! ha! ha!” Sam was Sheila’s little Chihuahua dog. Ashay couldn’t help but grin at the playfulness that Sheila often displayed.

Ashay always thought Sheila was much livelier than most anyone that he’s met in his life. She made friends easily; she had that people skill. Often he wished that he was like her; serious at what she did, but always full of life. She was the center of attraction at parties; on the contrary, he often kept to himself.

He called the number three more times and got Sheila’s recorded message every time. He didn’t leave any message. He then dialed her cell number, but then cancelled the call before it went through. He wanted to talk to her when she was home. After a little pause, he called her cell again. The call didn’t go through; he only got busy tone. That night he dialed Sheila’s home and cell numbers about a dozen times, without being able to talk to her.

* * *

At the time Ashay made the phone calls to Sheila, she was already at a Starbucks not too far from her apartment, enjoying café mocha and reading the novel The Kite Runner by Khaleid Hosseini. She heard beeps of Ashay’s calls on her cell when she was on the phone, talking with Rajan, a guy who she had recently met on a trip to New York. She looked at the number, noticed that the missed calls had come from Nepal but couldn’t figure out who it was from. It was not a number Ashay had given her before leaving for Nepal and it was not a number she recognized so she didn’t return the call.

As she sipped her coffee, she wondered if the missed calls might have been Ashay’s. She wondered what he might be doing at that moment in Kathmandu. She rested the novel on the table and looked out the window, not really looking at anything in particular. Her mind began to travel back in time; to the time they first had a chance encounter at an airport many years ago. They had forgotten that encounter until after they eventually met in Seattle and became friends. Her mind trudged on and drifted back into her past.

* * *

Four young, bright high-school students, all girls, all from St. Mary’s School in Kathmandu, ready to embark on a journey that they had looked forward to. The time was December 1998. As part of Japanese government-sponsored youth cultural exchange program for high school students in South Asia, they traveled from Nepal to a distant place where a Little Boy with a big attitude had wrecked havoc on a Monday morning, 53 years earlier. The world had reeled under its reverberations. The inquisitive minds of these young people asked a question, "Why?"

Decades after the Little Boy caused devastation, the world was still trying to find an answer. Many years after their visit to Japan, these four young students had all become young women, with ambitions and future only limited by their imagination. And, their imaginations were limitless. They followed their dreams and often wondered why it happened that happened. They all looked into the future, with aspirations, with ambition, with determination, with hope, and with dreams. One of them contemplated a life with opportunities to shape the future, to change the way how international relations were pursued. The task was enormous; yet, there was little trepidation. She had the ability to touch people's lives, a quality that is of essence in pursuing a career in international diplomacy. That young student was Sheila Dhungana, one of the Grade 11 students at St. Mary’s, who were selected to go to Japan for a 10-day visit on the cultural exchange program, based on their merit, leadership and potential. The other three were Aruna Malla, Sarita Sigdel, and Christine Tamang. Their escort teacher was Suhasini Rai.

The world was still as tumultuous as it was on that fateful day when the United States of America dropped a nuclear bomb, deceptively named Little Boy, on Hiroshima, which devastated the city, its people, its culture, its hope... and stunned the world community of nations. That fateful day was Monday, August 6, 1945. The time was about 8:15 AM. A 61 year-old bespectacled man in Washington, DC had given the order to bomb the city. His name was Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, who had become president upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt little less than 4 months earlier.

The four young Nepali students raised their head in that December morning in 1998, looking in awe at the skeletal dome of the iconic building that once was the Industrial Promotion Hall. They closed their eyes for a moment and prayed, trying to come to terms with the unnerving knowledge that more than 140,000 people had perished in the blast... men, women and children; fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters; people enjoying the golden years of their lives and young people like these four Nepali students with ambition and hope.

Yet, the building, which was near the epicenter of the blast and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Atomic Bomb Dome, beaconed to the young minds a message that is profound... a message of endurance amidst adversity, of defiance, and of hope. Despite the atomic blast of unprecedented, mind-numbing magnitude and intensity, the building hadn't come down to ground.

A young student from Pakistan stood next to Sheila and her friend Sarita. Imran Abbas, the boy from Pakistan, a lanky, good-looking fellow with sunglasses on, nudged at Sheila’s arm, “What are you thinking, Sheila?”

“Oh, I can’t even begin to appreciate the enormity of the devastation. I don’t know why Hiroshima had to be bombed and something else could not have been done to stop the war,” Sheila said.

“Oh, come on now, don’t be serious. You’re not going to be a politician or something are you?” Imran tried to liven up the moment.

Sarita quipped, “Or, some kind of diplomat, maybe?”

“Come on, guys; we’re all, what, 11th Grader. We still have long ways to go before we become anything,” Sheila said, her eyes still fixed at the dome. “But, tell you what, a diplomat doesn’t sound too bad to me.”

“Ambassador Dhungana,” Imran teased Sheila. “I think that’s what you’re going to become some day.”

“Come on, Imran, you’re so goofy; no wisecrack, please.”

Sunithee Jayewardene, a young girl from Sri Lanka overheard them and came over to Sheila’s rescue. She whispered to Sheila, “I’m a little sad really. Why do these things have to happen? The Hiroshima bombing, the Civil War in Sri Lanka…”

“And the Maoist insurgency in Nepal,” Sheila added. “I don’t know where the world is headed. But, I’m hopeful for the future, Suni. Look at this dome; it’s an example of endurance amidst adversity. Such devastation; yet, such big progress. Look where Japan is now. It’s an economic powerhouse.”

That evening, when Sheila returned to her host family’s house, she thought about her parents. Her parents were apprehensive about sending their young daughter on a 10-day trip to Japan. They were excited about the opportunity, but she was still their little baby and they had never let her out of their sight. After some convincing from Sheila’s teachers, they had relented on the condition that no boys would be allowed to sleep in the same room as the girls.

Sheila’s host family were waiting for her. Yumiko, the wife, asked how her day was and if she’d already had dinner outside, which she already had. Over Japanese green tea, Yashushi Hibi, the man, a political science professor at the university, asked her what she thought of the visit to Hiroshima.

Sheila paused; her young mind wondering how to summarize the day’s highlights. She thought for a moment, took a deep breath, and said, “The Hiroshima residents perished because of a decision of a country that now lives with the indignity of having ever used the atomic bombs to kill people. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and, three days later on August 9, of Nagasaki brought the World War II to an end; but the misery of war didn't end. Instead, the end of the World War II soon gave rise to another war... the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.”

Professor Hibi paused for a moment and said, “Sheila, you’re very eloquent; more than many of my graduate students. And I see that you have a good understanding of an important historical event in the world. You know something? I think one day you’re going to work for the United Nations. You have my blessings for whatever you want to do in life.”

Sheila asked the professor, “I am impressed by Japanese people’s progress. It’s amazing how Japan has emerged, like a Phoenix, to become an economic powerhouse in just a few decades after the War. I want to go to some college where I can learn things about international relations, economic development, financial stability like that of Japan… I don’t know… something like that. Could you give me some advice?”

“So you want to combine international relations with economic and financial aspects of it? Have you heard of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, United States? They have a great international relations program. And, for international economics and finance, Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is excellent.”

That night, Sheila went to bed with a dream. After tossing and turning for a while in bed, indulging in a dream of going to the United States for college, she finally fell asleep.

[End of Part 2]

[Go to Part 3]


Fiction: As the Life Turns - Part 1

Dear Readers,

I've never written any stories before. This is the first story I've ever written. I've always been kind of curious about and interested in writing stories, though. I remember that years ago when I finished my high school and was waiting to start college, I bought a thick notebook and started writing a story. I don't remember now what it is that I wrote, but whatever it was, it never got very far. I was interested in writing and drawing/painting, but both passions lay hidden somewhere in the back of my mind for years until now.

The following story is a work of fiction. I myself don't know where the storyline will go and how long the story will be. I wrote Part 1 in January this year and have just written Part 2, seven months after I wrote Part 1. That shows I'm not a very prolific writer.

This story is a figment of imagination. It is not based on reality. Except for the public and historical events and figures, all other events and characters are products of my imagination. Resemblance of any character in the story with any person and the person's name is coincidental.

If you read more accomplished and established writers, I'm sure you're going to be disappointed with this story. Nevertheless, I'd welcome your comments, whether they are complimentary or critical. I'll let you be the judge.

Best regards,

* * *
As the Life TurnsPart 1

By Ajay Pradhan | January 24, 2008

Ashay had just arrived in Vancouver the previous night from a visit to Kathmandu. The latter was his home; the former, a home away from home.

It was 11:30 in the morning on Thursday and he was still in bed, enjoying his slumber in the warm morning sun sneaking through the window that overlooked the beautiful False Creek in Vancouver’s Yaletown. He had taken the rest of the week off at work.

Yaletown was an antidote to Vancouver’s faster and more dazzling northern downtown peninsula and drabness of its eastern middle-class district. He loved his home away from home.

The phone rang when he was still asleep. “Hello,” he mumbled, picking up the phone.

“Ashay, this is Sheila. Welcome back,” a soft voice of the caller sent warm tingles down his spine. “I would have picked you up at the airport, but I’m sorry I arrived home late from Seattle myself” She almost sounded apologetic.

“Hey, don’t worry, Sheila."

“Can we meet today, Ash?”

Ashay wasn’t too crazy about being called Ash, which many of his friends and families did. He somehow thought the abbreviation had a feminine ring to it. He didn’t like his name being associated with the Bollywood star, Aishworya Rai.

“I’d love to, Sheila. When and where? But, don't you have work today?” asked Ashay.

“Right now,” Sheila’s voice had a definite urgency. “I could come over, if you want. I took a day off today.”

“I’d love that, Sheila, but my apartment is messy right now and I wouldn’t want you to smell the musty odor,” Ashay lied. His apartment was immaculately clean and fresh, the way he always wanted it to be. He wasn’t a neat freak, but he was definitely not a slacker.

"Ashay, it was six months ago today that we met. Happy Six Months Anniversary", Sheila said.

Ashay hadn't remembered the date they met. He was never good with dates. "Oh, hey, Happy Sixth."

Sheila was his friend, but both had a certain level of attraction to each other that they kept hidden. It was the sort of attraction that normally didn’t exist between friends.

Sheila worked for an investment firm. Ashay worked for a policy research institute. She was a doer; he, a thinker. Ashay was smart; Sheila was smarter. They both went to Ivy League schools in the U.S. Ashay graduated from Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Sheila graduated from Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. They both were first generation immigrants in Canada. They both thought alike, and each told their friends, “Nepal gave birth to me, U.S. educated me, and Canada is feeding me.”

Sheila was Shila Dhungana in Nepal. With an ‘e’ added to the name, she made things easier for her colleagues who never pronounced her name right. She didn’t like being called Shyla, so the extra ‘e’ helped her bring her colleagues back to calling her the right way, Sheela.

* * *

Sheila had met Ashay Shrestha at an investment policy seminar in Seattle, two hours down south from their home in Vancouver. Neither of them thought the other was a Nepali or were from Vancouver. With Seattle being ethnically diverse and multicultural, they didn’t take notice of each other because they thought the other was a Nepali. Vancouver being as ethnically diverse and multicultural, each had long stopped wondering if a Nepali-looking face at Pacific Center Mall or Guildford Mall was a Nepali or not.

At the seminar, Sheila and Ashay took notice of each other because each had a sparkle in their eyes when they saw each other across the round table.

Their friendship started during a coffee break with a simple, “Hi, I’m Sheila, and you are?”

“I’m Ashay. Nice to meet you, Sheila.”

“So, how are you enjoying the seminar, Ashay?”

“Oh, I’m enjoying it alright, but I’m itching to go back home.”

“And the home is…?” Sheila quizzed.

“Vancouver,” replied Ashay.

“You’re kidding me. I’m from Vancouver, too.” Sheila said.

“Wow, small world, eh?” Ashay exclaimed.

“So, Ashay, wanna do lunch together?” Sheila didn’t care if she seemed a bit too eager.

“I’d love to,” Ashay was excited.

Thus began their friendship. That was July 24, 2007, exactly six months ago today.

* * *

Ashay was in Kathmandu for two weeks for a family visit. He had a mother who doted on him as if he was still a kindergartener. He hadn’t seen her in about two years and he was very excited to see her. His father had passed away many years ago. He had two brothers and a sister. They were a close-knit family, even though they were geographically dispersed in different corners of the world at different times.

His mother would always say to him, “Ashu, I’m getting old and I want to see you settled down with a lovely bride.”

“I’ve got a few photographs that I want you to see.” His mother told him the very day he had arrived in Kathmandu.

“Aww, Ma, come on now,” He protested, not wanting to discuss the matter any further. “I came here to see you.”

When he was in Kathmandu, he had the opportunity to get around with his old friends. Having been away from Nepal, he wanted to refresh his memory of the old, architectural buildings and temples.

With the architectural bones of an 18th-century Kathmandu, the city had evolved in a mixture of ancient architecture and modern city vista. He went to Basantapur and Thamel tourist hubs. He was particularly impressed with the transformation of Thamel from a sleepy district that he had last seen to a bustling tourist destination with multitude of restaurants, pubs and cafes serving cuisine from most parts of the world.

One evening he and his four old friends, Nisha, Pranita, Apurba and Prakash, went to have dinner at Jatra, a restaurant that offered sumptuous cosmopolitan faire on their menu and an eclectic choice of cocktails.

Just when the cocktail orders were being placed to the perky waitress, Pranita’s cell phone rang.

“Hello,” Pranita flipped the phone and softly answered, not wanting to draw the attraction from other tables.

“I want to talk to Ashay,” A female voice said.

“Who’s this?” Pranita demanded.

“Just give him the phone, please,” The caller was in no mood to reveal her name.

“But how do you know Ashay is here?”

“Will you please give him the phone already?” The caller didn't even say, "Would you..." She seemed pretty determined to talk with Ashay.

Pranita gave Ashay the phone.

“Hello, who’s this?” Ashay spoke into the phone and listened.

All his friends at the table noticed Ashay’s face go pale as he listened.

* * *

[End of Part 1]

Go to Part 2]

Photo Credits:
Stock photo of couple holding hands: Anonymous photographer.
License: 100% Royalty-free.


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