Pride and prejudice

  • The good elements of Harka Gurung’s development regions could have been used for federating Nepal
- Jagannath Adhikari

Sep 2, 2015-

The tendency of the Nepali intelligentsia to  pursue the ideologies of political parties is hardly surprising. We all know why this happens. As all important government positions that come with power and wealth are distributed according to party quotas or bhagbanda, it is but natural for the people who aspire for these positions to do so. This has prevented them from making a critical analysis of social-economic and political events and processes that are taking place in our society. This tendency is deeply worrying. A section of the intelligentsia in Kathmandu, for instance, refuses to distinguish between a ‘crime’ and a ‘political action’with regards to the recent killings in Tikapur. According to them, what happened in Tikapur was a ‘political action’, an incident that can be justified based on historical injustices. On the contrary, all evidences reveal that it was simply a heinous crime. Going by such arguments, I doubt whether it will be at all possible to have an independent inquiry on the incident.  

But my intention here is not to talk about the Tikapur incident. In this article, I plan to discuss why our prejudice or pride blinds us and then leads us to abandon many good ideas and practices that the people or groups on the other side have/had developed or invented. It is akin to throwing a baby out with the bath water. One good example of this is the idea to divide Nepal into five development regions developed by Harka Gurung during the Panchayat era. This has drawn everyone’s attention after the four major parties demarcated boundaries of the proposed states.

For development regions

Most people opposed to Harka Gurung’s five development regions as a basis for carving federal states do not have any good reason to criticise its relevance except that it was developed during the Panchayat era. For that matter, anything that was developed during the Panchayat regime is considered to be regressive, and any one who supports this idea is labeled a ‘Mahendrabadi’, which is now a derogatory term like a ‘reactionary’. In the past, when I wrote about the need to have a few federal states in Nepal delineated along the north and south encompassing all ecological regions, a few self-proclaimed liberal intellectuals also accused me of being regressive.

Even so, I still feel that Harka Gurung’s small book ‘Regional Development Planning for Nepal’ (1969, National Planning Commission) is his signature work, even though he has written many other books. After conducting a study in the 1960s and extensively traveling throughout Nepal, Harka Gurung found the growth-pole theory, which was in currency then, to be appropriate for the Nepali context. The aim of this approach was to reduce economic disparity among the regions and make development as balanced as possible.  At the same time, economic growth would also be more feasible by integrating the comparative advantages of each ecological region and by developing growth centers wherever this integration is possible. As the mid-hills were a meeting point for different ecological zones, five emerging towns or locations that held the possibilities for industrial development and trade facilitation were chosen in the mid-hills or valleys as the growth centers. I do not think that there was any other reason or ulterior motive behind such a plan. Moreover, we also need to look into the realities of that period. Development was a state-led process then unlike the current neoliberal development.

Economic inclusion

While developing this planning approach, many Nepali and foreigners researchers of that time had studied the flow of people, goods and commodities across the ecological zones. The studies obviously found that these flows were taking place mainly along the corridors formed by major rivers. In a way, the geographical factors, including the vertical diversity in ecology, weather and cultural patterns, had traditionally strengthened this movement. Furthermore, the traditional integration of various eco-zones also strengthened the resilience of Nepali society.

In a way, Harka Gurung’s model was aimed at economic inclusion.It was assumed that this would lead to ‘social-political’ inclusion, even though this term was not in currency at that time. Nevertheless, the real boost for social-political inclusion first comes from economic inclusion. Nepal’s quest for social-political inclusion may not go far under the proposed federal set-up, if efforts are not made to improve the economic status of the marginalised groups. Otherwise, only a few selected elites from different groups will control the economy, and then, the politics.  However, it is true that the introduction of five development regions did not result in the fast economic growth in Nepal. But this wasnot the fault of this model as such. It failed because physical infrastructure, especially those facilitating transport connectivity, which were the prerequisites for this model to work, were not developed then. Moreover, we also need to reckon the fact that that period in history was marked by economic activities in both India and China.

Taking the good

Harka Gurung’s model, I agree, was not aimed at changing the political structure of that time. But, his model does have some good elements that could have been used for federating Nepal. Using this model basically means carving states which consist of areas in the Himal, Pahad and the Tarai. If the states so carved use the principles of proportionate representation, it would surely ensure social-political inclusion too. For this, areas with the demographic dominance of a single group with similar culture, and language could have been declared as ‘special areas’. The state and central level government could allocate greater power for self-rule and resources to such areas.

Sadly, state restructing has been the sole project of political scientists in Nepal though it should have also taken the concerns of natural scientists into account because it is natural resources that underpin economic and social/cultural patterns. I am also greatly surprised as to why ‘geographers’ in Nepal did not have the guts to defend the use of Harka Gurung’s model for carving the federal provinces.

Adhikari is a social scientist

Published: 02-09-2015 08:33

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