Politicians say the darndest thingsWords without action mean nothing. But our leaders don’t seem to believe so.
A couple of decades ago, the now-in-disgrace comedian, Bill Cosby, used to host the show, ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’, in which children would respond to Cosby’s probing with the funniest of responses (for grown-ups). Considering the outrageous utterances of our politicos day in and day out, we can be pretty sure that a copycat programme called ‘Politicians Say the Darndest Things’ would be quite easy to put together. There would be no dearth of material and with the right host and a good back-up team, someone might even make good money out of it.
I give two recent examples of the ‘darndest’ things our politicians get away with. The newly minted Executive Chairperson of the ruling party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, threatened to go on hunger strike if contractors shied from fulfilling their contractual obligation. Given the man’s deafening silence over the incomplete projects by the contractor whose house he has been living in (whether on rent or not is unknown), and the adverse publicity the landlord has received of late, one had a ray of hope that Prachanda had finally grown a conscience—or a spine. That did not seem to be the case though since, for some strange reason, he was referring to contracts being undertaken in the Tarai only.
Of course, the past master of expressing the darndest things is no other than Prime Minister KP Oli. The prime minister has been out of action for some time due to his ill health, but that has not prevented his party members from taking his cue to inform us that the country is on the cusp of taking off. The current stage of inertia is simply a preparatory one, they tell us, even though this stage has lasted considerably longer than the initially promised one year. We are coming close to two years since Oli took office at the head of the largest majority in post-1990 Nepal, and yet all indications are that it has been business as usual. The most recent assessment of progress was dismal, showing that in the last four months, the government had spent only 6.6 percent of the annual development budget.
There has been enough comment from the punditocracy and the layperson alike explaining this state of affairs not to bear repeating here. The government’s gameplan seems to be to will Nepal into middle-income status through means of parroted rhetoric such as in the other example I provide below. Hardly any attempt has been made to fundamentally transform institutional structures to contribute to such an outcome. By this, I do not mean the drafting of laws, in which we lag behind no one, but to the radical overhauling of the informal rules of the game that have remained untouched through the Panchayat years, the multiparty system, the transitional phase, and now in federal Nepal. The last-minute cancellation of the global tender for e-passports a couple of weeks ago at the behest of the prime minister, seemingly to favour one business house, is only one such manifestation of the murky confluence of politics and business. That is why all the indignation expressed by the prime minister for the lack of progress smacks of nothing but cynical hypocrisy.
The second instance of a darned statement comes from another ruling party strongman, Bamdev Gautam. Speaking at a function of the party’s youth wing, the former deputy prime minister expectedly extolled the current pace of Nepal’s development before an appreciative audience. However, in the heat of the moment, he seems to have got carried away and to declare that if his party were to be given a free hand, Nepal would ‘reach’ India in five years and China in 10. Although not clearly articulated, Gautam appears to have meant the phase-wise matching of our per capita GDP with our two neighbours should the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) continue in office till then. The criticism was anything but muted, with one reader’s comment somewhat predictably accusing Gautam of trying to outdo Oli himself.
Easier said than done
Humour aside, one does wonder where people like Gautam get the information to make the most preposterous statements. It cannot be facts since, as the second American president, John Adams, said 250 years ago: ‘Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.’
Let us consider the facts for now in terms of how the economies of Nepal, China and India have fared in recent decades. Since we need some kind of reference point, it makes sense to take 1978—the year China opened up to the world. At the time, Nepal’s GDP was $1.6 billion, China’s was $149.5 billion and India’s, $137.3 billion. By 2018, China’s GDP had grown 91 times to $13.6 trillion, India’s had grown 20 times to $2.7 trillion and Nepal’s 18 times to reach $28.8 billion. In terms of GDP per capita, since that is a measure of wealth at the individual level, China’s had grown from $156 to 9,771 (a jump of 62.6 times), India from $206 to $2,016 (9.8 times) and Nepal from $112 to $1,026 (9.2 times).
As the accompanying figure indicates, China’s GDP grew by double digits in 16 of those years, a feat that has not been emulated even once either by India or Nepal. And, yet, Gautam believes we can aim for that kind of growth in the next 10 years—given the right spirit, of course, where the spirit is the achievement of socialism of the likes never before witnessed in the world.
Perhaps Gautam is aware that the highest growth ever achieved by China was in 1969 and 1970 when its GDP grew by 16.9 and 19.3 percent, respectively. That was at the height of Mao’s China and long before capitalism had made its foray there. But, since it followed negative growth in 1967 and 1968, the actual GDP boost was much smaller. What Gautam and proponents of command economies choose to forget is the -27.3 and -5.6 percent rate of growth in 1961 and 1962, respectively, the last two years of Mao Zedong’s signature campaign, the Great Leap Forward.
Notwithstanding that disastrous socialist experience nor China’s economic miracle since the end of Maoist policies, it is still a wonder that our communist leaders continue to propound old-school socialism. Politicians do say the darndest things indeed.
What do you think?
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