Monday, 30 May 2011

Why so negative about politics?

The contemporary Nepali society and news media is most of the times full of passionate debate about politics. While having a healthy discussion is affirmative, signs of fatigue from talking and reading about politics all the time has become prevalent. Such fatigue might save us from the immediate headache but we might be fast heading towards heartache by ignoring this topic at all.

The attempt here is focused on reflecting and discussing my own observations of Nepali politics. I refrain here from ranting about our politicians and political mismanagement. Rather, I am choosing to focus on what I consider as the attributes of good leadership and better democratic political process. This article is not about coming up with the elusive solution to all our problems. I have deliberately asked many open-ended questions without providing many answers. By doing so, I intend to leave my valued readers to seek their own answers. Readers would appreciate that it is a super-brief account about a topic that could easily be someone’s lifetime career yet barely scratch the surface.

The Question
The question I asked myself before I started this thought piece was “Why are there so much negative feelings whenever we discuss Nepali politics”?

The answer, in my view, is because we know democracy can deliver so much more than what we are getting today. Things need not be in the sorry state as they are. There are so much more we can achieve as a democratic nation. Democracy is a platform that offers society better opportunities to its people’s life. Unfortunately, the people of Nepal have not been able to benefit from this proven workable political system.

A leader always strives to do the right thing; chooses the right way at the time of crisis. Outcome of an action depends on multiple factors other than solely on a leader's act. However, a leader’s right action will go a long way to bring about a favorable outcome. One may rightly argue that right or wrong is subjective. Right attributes stand on a strong foundation of universal principles such as responsibility, accountability, respect, honesty, compassion, fairness and so on. Actions based on such principles will stand the test of time against those based on ad hoc personal and parochial interests. Time, situation and people change; these principles remain constantly valid. How many of our leaders how often display such principled characteristics? Do we practice these behaviors in our lives; are we leading our own life based on such sound principles?

Democracy 101
It seems that we are yet to understand the fundamental concepts of democracy. Nepal has been experimenting with variants of parliamentary democracy for more than half a century since the popular movement of 2007 BS. Unfortunately, over the past sixty years people’s lives and the nation’s situation have gotten bad to worse so often. Questions have been time and again raised on the very suitability of the democratic system as a governing model for the country.

Our lack of success with democratic system could well be stemming from the fact that we do not know how to best use it for our purpose. The secret of a successful democracy greatly lies with a rigorous and robust process! The guardians of the process are accountable exclusively to the public. That’s why it is “for the people” system. You deviate from this process; you erode the democratic system’s very credibility – more the skewness; greater the fall from grace.

One of the fundamental elements in a democratic process is public engagement, which is at the heart of good democratic practice. Involvement of the public at the grass-root is what makes democracy an inclusive true “for the people” system. This is how meaningful long-term relationships are built, mutual trust is won and partnerships are found between the leadership and the citizens. It is not an easy job but there are ways to successfully manage this sensitive government-public interface. Are we aware of the need, essence and power of public engagement for a successful functioning of democracy?

Another basic reason the democratic political process works is because everyone plays by the rule. No one is above the rule of law. Everyone, politicians and citizens, agree to a set of rules; they abide by it. Is our contemporary politics based on rule of law or that on intimidation?

Who’s Fault?
The guardians of the achievements of popular movements failed miserably to deliver any substantial respite to the people who gave their blood, sweat and tears in anticipation of some sort of change. Whose fault is it that six decade since 2007BS of democratic exercise has yielded to virtually nothing towards forwarding the society in the right direction? Whenever this question is asked, it seems everyone passes the blame on someone else.

The most favorite seems to blame it on the system – “this is the system’s fault”, “the system is corrupt”…. Is it really so? System is a set of philosophy, principles and rules people pledge to abide by. When someone does not abide by the rule, how come it is the fault of the system? We should know by now that it is the people with crook mentality, ill intentions and selfish actions who are the culprits. If we do not change the way we do things, no system can save us. What have we personally done so far to correct the elements that have betrayed our democracy and the broader society? Are we, the concerned citizens, aware of our own role and power in democratic practice?

The general public has some responsibility to not always blame it all on the leadership. They are also accountable as leadership and public are two sides of the same coin. After all it is the public who make leaders. It is the public who propel the leaders in power – be it by daring to bare their chest in front of the guns or be it by casting their ballot. We elect our representatives because citizens cannot all the time get involve in politics. We hand over the responsibility of governing by electing our representatives. But the tragedy is in the talent of deceit of our representatives. We have time and again seen that once elected, they are only interested in benefits of running the administration but completely forget their responsibility toward governance. Do we not have choices but to helplessly endure the pain of broken promises? Why do we so easily forgive their betrayal of this colossal proportion? Are we going to do something about this repetitive cycle of disloyalty? Do we have some responsibility towards and control of our own destiny and that of the nation?

It is the people who run a system. Democracy is the best governing system the world has today. It has worked successfully elsewhere but in Nepal begs us to concur that we have not properly run the machinery. When democracy fails people suffer. Citizens are the sufferers of mismanagement of democracy in our nation. It is time we bring our train of democracy in the right track. To do so the citizens of this nation, leadership and general public both, should start to self reflect, analyze and ask the right questions about their role in what is happening today and what is possible tomorrow. We will get right answers only if we ask the right questions.

End note:
Your comments and feedback are welcome.
I have been away from Nepal for almost a decade now. I currently live in Auckland. I have so far been back to Nepal at least once every two years. My views of Nepali politics is therefore, if you like, that of an expat's. I may be far from home but yo man ta mero Nepali ho!
This article may be reproduced with acknowledging the author, and sending him a copy or link afterwards. I may be reached at

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The inevitable critical mass of change

A modified version of this published in on 28 March 2013 (

The Definition
According to Wikipedia, critical mass is a socio-dynamic term to describe the existence of sufficient momentum in a social system such that the momentum becomes self-sustaining and creates further growth.

It has already begun – our critical mass – we are, sooner or later, on our way to witness a change that will enable every citizen of Nepal and every child to be born in the future to realize their full potential in life.

Look around you. You will see, feel and taste it!

The Wind of Change
The wind of change has already started to take momentum. This change is inevitable; it is only a matter of time. It is going to be different from the political changes we have seen so far since 2007 BS. Those political changes were merely on the surface; did not do much other than changing the guards.

This time it is profound for the change is being led and implemented by the individuals themselves. It is impossible to stop this change. No one can suppress it because this change needs no street demonstrations. No one can betray this time for one can’t betray the self.

This change is powerful for it is natural. It stands on the core values of life such as human rights, dignity, honesty, responsibility, accountability, compassion and fairness. These principles of life will remain unchanged despite changes in time, situation and context.

Things happen for a reason. The reason for this change is based on facts – the facts of life. These are the facts of life Nepali people like you and I face daily. The facts tell us that our socio-political system should have delivered some vision we all could aspire to; our democracy could have helped us live a life of dignity and prosperity.

The seeds of this change were sown when the politicians repeatedly ravaged the very oath they pledged to serve the nation and its citizens. The rock of momentum for the change had already begun to gather moss from the very first day when this betrayal was hatched. It has now become so colossal in proportion that it has now become inevitable and unstoppable.

This gradually momentum gathering wind of change is the critical mass of change.

The Agents of the Critical Mass
Anuradha Koirala, Mahabir Pun and Sanduk Ruit are some examples of the change agents who are leading by example and making a positive difference. There are at least 25 other torchbearers of the change as reported in the website I am sure there are more in our local and wider community who are doing excellent job but have not seen the limelight of the media. Such larger than life figures have not only given some hope amidst the despair but also have shared the difficult burden of spearheading the torch of the critical mass.

Enough has already been said and is being said about the state of affairs of our politics. We have time and again seen cyclical trends repeat despite the change of the guards. At one hand we, as a nation, have suffered from the failure of political leadership. On the other hand, ironically this failure itself has been steadily contributing towards building the critical mass.

Some countrymen have had enough of our politicians. We have lately seen examples of them taking matters in their own hands. The sound of the slap on their face should have reverberated in the ears of our politicians. This seems only the beginning of people starting to act against the pain of dishonesty, betrayal and unaccountability. While the means is condemnable the incidences themselves are hardly any surprise. Critical masses of such citizens who have now become fearless of the consequences of their action against the long ongoing political injustice have been brewing for a long time. The repetitive nature of the injustice has only made the brew more potent.

The young generation has recently made it loud and clear that they want to have their say. They have refused to silently hop on the fatalistic train of delaying the constitution promulgation without any valid explanation. The ongoing Nepal Unites movement and similar other in the social media are a good sample of how the new generation wants to be taken – seriously!

What Next?
The fire of critical mass for the inevitable change is already gaining momentum. It can’t be extinguished; its course can’t be altered. That is because the fuel that burns this fire is the universal law of nature. Universe and nature itself may decay some day; the universal principles of nature prevails.

The challenge we have in front of us now is - how to guide the collective of critical masses towards a positive outcome and a meaningful conclusion?

The critical mass will explode when the wick is torched. Nothing will escape the wave of positive energy radiated from the coming big bang. The resulting winds of change will chain react events that will give us opportunity to rebuild a great nation and live a meaningful life. Whether we will seize that opportunity or not, time will tell. For now, the million-dollar question is, “who is going to be that brave change agent to light the wick? When and where?”
The author may be reached at

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Utopia or Solution?

Metro Train in Kathmandu - Utopia or Solution?

It is time we did something to resolve the traffic gridlock of Kathmandu. An option is outlined in this writing with an intention to initiate further discussion. National news media last week reported that 16 international firms bided for the feasibility study to operate metro train in Kathmandu. Residents of Kathmandu will be keenly watching how this feasibility study unfolds and the project progresses in the days to come.

About 5 years ago, I scribbled an article putting together my thoughts about the concept of sub-ground railway network to address the ongoing and future traffic congestion of Kathmandu. However, every time I thought of publishing it, the idea somehow seemed so disconnected and distant from the reality of contemporary socio-economic and political climate of Nepal that the whole concept seemed fictional. The idea of a project like this still sounds remote from reality. However, the scale of the problem we have in our city begs for some immediate actions. Skepticism should no longer deter healthy debate on creative solutions. With this recent development about the metro train, I now find it timely to share how it all can develop in the future – Kathmandu with an underground rapid transit system!

A Hypothesis for the Future
One day in Kathmandu sometime in the future … Putalisadak, one of the major streets of Kathmandu

Every vehicle is following road rules; traffic is free flowing without honking. An old lady, in her seventies, is about to cross a road at the intersection. She forgets to check the incoming traffic; must be her age. The approaching vehicle carefully slows down, stops, and the driver gives way to the lady to cross the street. While crossing the road … a faint and distant yet powerful rumble shakes the ground underneath. It isn’t an earthquake; it is Kathmandu’s beloved metro train. The official name for the sub-ground rail system is the Greater Kathmandu Metro System (GKMS).

The Network of GKMS
Commuters in Kathmandu these days reach their destinations safely on time. GKMS carries seventy-five out of hundred commuters of the city every day. That means the road traffic and the pedestrians could afford to enjoy cooperation rather than competition for urban space. The metro network has completely changed the face of our city. It is one of the testaments to this metropolis’ ever-expanding size, livability, and most importantly success. Thanks to the reliable service and extensive network of the rapid transit system throughout the greater Kathmandu. Kathmandu has now sprawled – Geographically greater Kathmandu covers a region spreading across Sundarijal-Banepa to the east, Thankot-Naubise to the west, Shivapuri-Kakani to the North, and Chovar-Dakchinkali to the south.

GKMS’s network lines serve all corners of greater Kathmandu. Our Metro extends its lines from the central station, the KK (King’s Kross), located beneath King’s Way and the former Royal Palace. Each tentacles of the network spanning out from the central station are inter connected; weaving them together like a mesh. Key centres and traffic nodes such as New Road, Kalanki and Koteshwore have major stations that open up to the bustling city life above. Next to the train lines in the tunnels run the essential services such as the reticulated drainage, storm-water, electricity and telecommunication.
The present network in greater Kathmandu is only a beginning. The Metro network will soon link Kathmandu with other railway grids of the country such as the Birgunj-Kathmandu and the East-West railway. The mighty tentacles of GKMS are also the foundation for the integration of our national land transportation system with that of China, India and beyond.

The Nuts and Bolts of Success
The success of GKMS is greatly attributed to a robust process against which the whole concept and its implementation were constantly tested. The concept of GKMS was endorsed only after a vigorous but healthy discussion of stakeholders including the general public, local bodies and the central government. The network of GKMS was completed in multiple stages. Each stage benefited from wider debate among stakeholders and public participation. The first trip of the metro began only after many years of rigorous planning and assessment of multiple options. Among the works that were undertaken involved a feasibility study. This study analyzed, in great detail among many matters, our current and future transportation demand, growth trend of the city, and geology. The architects of the project benefitted hugely from the global wealth of knowledge of underground and surface railway systems, including those built more than a century ago in Europe and the recently completed ones in the Asian cities.

For the proud citizens of this nation, GKMS is more than a railway. In many ways, GKMS serves the entire nation’s society and economy. Our Metro’s service contributes massively in more than just getting people from the point of origin to destination. It, of course, helps our people move; transports freight faster and safer.  Revenue collected from users is redistributed in various community initiatives throughout the nation. It also generates significant employment at various levels. Right from its concept stage GKMS has brought together the creative capital of this nation, within as well as the expats. Our citizens are proud of this Nepali venture built by blood, sweat and tears of their own kind. Electricity generated from our own hydro electricity powers the nerves and veins of GKMS locomotives.

The economics of GKMS is also one of its kind. Our Metro is a public-private venture. The public has invested in it through shares and bonds. It is a contribution of the city dwellers for their beloved city. The public investment has created a healthy patronage and a feeling of ownership on behalf of our city dwellers. Of course, the economic model was subjected to a robust public process just like the whole project. Special care was taken to address the concerns of the public transport operators of the city. After sensible consultation with the individual operators and the trade unions, many of the operators now use their skills and experience to run the metro service.

Let’s Start Planning
Is this a mere utopian idea or a solution to one of our major problems of the day?

Urban planning is forward looking; cities are planned with time horizon of a few decades or beyond. Cities around the globe today are fiercely competing and planning to attract the creative and financial capital. For our cities where daily necessity such as electricity, drinking water and rubbish disposal matters, such ambitious virtue may sound ridiculous. There is no doubt that we need to sort our basic requirements first. At the mean time, we also need to explore bold concepts like the GKMS if we want our cities and the nation to catch up with the rest of the world. If we still chose the do nothing, conditions of our urban areas will get worse in the future as the cities’ resources are further stretched due to population pressure. We only need to reflect on the rapid decline of Kathmandu’s livability in the past few decades.

The layout of a city not only has great influence on how a city functions but also that on how its inhabitants think, live and move. Traffic network is the skeleton of a city’s layout. Let us have a look around Kathmandu today. The city suffers from the failure to plan for the unprecedented growth. The plight of degeneration is similar in the rest of the urban areas throughout Nepal. The Himalayan Shangri-La is asphyxiating in the stench, fumes and dust in our cities. We may still be able to revive it; but we have to act now. We cannot afford status quo anymore. Something has to be done.

GKMS in isolation is almost certain to fail. Further, it is vital to understand that a metro is not the solution to all the traffic problems of Kathmandu. It rather should be a sub set of broader sets of integrated urban renewal of our city. Urban renewal, generally speaking, addresses the maladies of unplanned urban growth in social, cultural, environmental and economic sectors of a city.

We must act now with a vision and start debating solutions such as GKMS. A commitment to deliver is a must to make this fictional locomotive a reality. The knowledge and capacity for a rapid transit project like the GKMS is out there in today’s world. There are plenty of competent Nepali professionals, within the country and around the globe, with skill set needed to plan and implement such a project.  If something like GKMS happens, we have taken a positive step towards decongesting the blocked veins of our city. If not, the city will gradually choke to death by thousand cuts. 

I can already see the tentacles of the Greater Kathmandu Metro System spreading its arms far and wide across and beneath the city of gods. 
End note: I practice urban planning in Auckland, New Zealand. Your comments and feedback are welcome. This article may be reproduced with acknowledging the author, and sending him a copy or link afterwards. I may be reached at

Monday, 2 May 2011

Positive Thinking and Power of Choice – A framework for life

How many times when you ask someone, “Key chha haal khabar” do you get these answers? – “Kei chaina … khattam chha…bawaal chha…paani chaina…batti chaina…neta haru …”. I recently had such answers from one of my acquaintances. Further down our conversation my friend mentioned about his new house and forthcoming baby. Then I thought, “Hang on! My friends could have chosen to celebrate a bit more of the positive things in his life”. My friend’s initial response, by any means, is neither new nor unusual. However, it triggered further questions for me on our contemporary psyche. I attempt in this piece to pen some of them down. 

Enough have been already said and written about positive thinking – from the ancient scriptures to the contemporary management literature. The concept must have some merit to survive the millennia. There are ample writings available about the power of positive thinking in many languages. So I am not going to delve deep into it here. I will however make an attempt to analyze what I observe in the contemporary Nepali society in relation to positive thinking. It should be noted before proceeding that views expressed in this writing is a much generalized outlook.

Positive thinking is powerful. Our thoughts guide not only the words we speak but also the actions we take. If we kept on repeating “khattam chha…dess ko taalai barbaad chha…kei hune wala chaina yaha …”, we will surely be heading downhill, rapidly. On the other hand, we have a choice; choice of thinking differently. Our mood, actions and outcome might be different if we train the voice in our head to repeat something like “I am going to try my best to do this” or “I will achieve this”.

I am not ignoring the sorry state of affair of our country that has now been ongoing for decades. However, without specifically naming, we have some tremendously successful individuals and organizations in Nepal. So the evidence is there - if you try, you can do it! The chaos in the country has not prevented them from achieving what they have achieved. It is a completely different matter that had there been a favorable and stable politico-economic environment, the number of successful cases may have been higher. However, we have had a number of marvelous lotuses flower in the mud. The successful individuals and organizations also operate in the same environment the rest of the population does. No, they are not lucky. What they did differently, I think, is that instead of choosing to sit back and die the fatalistic death (lekhe po painchha, afno ta lekhekai rahena chha…and so on), these courageous bunch choose to live a life full of self belief, hard work and dedication among many other positive attributes.

Look around us and you’ll find our society full of negativism. You only need to look at the newspaper headlines, behavior of those who are supposed to lead us by example and peek at the neighborhood. I observe that majority of the population, probably for their own valid reasons, end up engulfed by a black hole of negativism compounded by the intricacies of personal life and family complication. Nation’s political insatiability is the one most of us are quick to blame. So much so that we would like to think if we fixed this we are taken care of. That may not necessarily be the case. We have seen the guards change over the past few decades a number of times now. Has it solved our problem?

Let us look at the nation’s sorry state of affair this way. What has happened in the past and what is happening now is not our individual or a particular group’s fault. There is no point self bashing or pointing finger at others. In today’s world there are numerous variables, national and global, that determine the course of action of a nation. Our next door neighbors China and India have not recently become world’s economic powerhouse on their own. Neither have our other neighbors, Pakistan and Afghanistan, delved deep into turmoil just because of their own domestic issues. Time, context and most importantly their policies and actions has propelled both these groups of nations where they are today.

The problems we have in Nepal today are a function of numerous variables including inherited legacy, present day leadership (including other than political) and global phenomenon. Let us not forget the role of time and context. We are in a very different world today than we were fifty years ago. As an individual, we are not going to fix all the problems we have in our country. However, we can do ourselves a favor by being accountable and responsible for our own thoughts and actions. As a matter of fact those are the only things that are in our control. Nothing else is. Instead of trying to attempt the impossible task of changing others and the whole world, why not choose to change ourselves? It may be hard but it is possible.

Problems are omnipresent. They are reality of life. They have always existed and will remain to do so. Wars, famine, natural disasters…you name it. The important question is how we look at it and how we allow it to effect us. Are we going to get depressed thinking the economic depression has hit the world so hard that there are no opportunities for us when thousands of people are loosing job every day? Are we going to be scared that if a similar earthquake that hit Japan recently hit Nepal, we all are going to die? Global financial meltdown has affected every nation and earthquake can happen anytime anywhere. Can we personally influence these attributes? No. Do we have any control over them? No. So why stress out our poor dura mater by thinking about things that we have no influence at all. However, we have influence on how we allow problems impact on us – get depressed or face the facts and get on with life. The choice is ours. It is as simple and straight forward as that.

I read a story a while ago about the power of choice and positive thinking, which goes like this. Twin boys are born in a family with an alcoholic father. When the boys became men, one of them ended up being a drunkard and the other became a doctor. When asked, the drunkard said that he always saw his father drink and beat his mum; he could not concentrate on his studies and life hence ended up being an alcoholic himself. The doctor said the same thing; always seeing his father drink and beat their mum. But he also said that becoming like his father was the last thing he wanted in his life. He wanted to be different; he wanted to become a better man. He chose to be different and he took actions to be better than his father.

I know it is difficult to think positive when you have to deal with tens of hours of daily black out, rising cost of living and ever eroding socio-cultural values. I know it is hard being in the quick sand and yet keep thinking positive. Again, we have a choice. Keep calm and think how you are going to get out of the quick sand or franticly throw hands in the air. Keeping calm may not necessarily save you from the quicksand but panic will surely sink you faster. We have lots of good things happening around us. Let’s take some time and have a look. There are certainly good things happening in our lives and in our nation.

The point I am trying to make here is that as an individuals each one of us has the direct control of only one thing - ourselves! No more, no less. Rest of the world, including family and friends, are merely the function of degree of our influence. We may influence them, but we have no control over what anyone other than ourselves does, says or thinks. If you imagine concentric circle of influence, you are the nucleus with total control. Your influence gradually diminishes with family on the first orbit, friends on the second and so on. Literally, you are the centre of the universe. Your universe.

I have here talked about a framework of life. It is something that has worked for me for quite a while. I have miserably failed to communicate if I seem to imply this is the way of life. It is only a way. As the apex race in the universe, every individual has been equipped to do one thing that no other species does better – think.

Published in