Print Edition - 2014-06-12  |  Oped

Out of the box

- Sumit Sharma Sameer
Out of the box

Jun 11, 2014-It might be unwise for a tiny country to question and reconceptualise the ‘growth’ model of ‘development’ even as its giant neighbours and emerging economies—China and India—have largely accepted liberal economic policies. These two countries are often cited as successful examples of third world countries capable of challenging the economic might of the West. Nepal, nevertheless, has begun the process of looking inward by questioning development and prosperity in the

public realm. An article by Sushil Sharma, ‘Nepal Kina Banna Sakena?’ (February 8), published in Kantipur and a few other articles that responded to Sharma’s queries, are an example.

Questioning prescriptions

It cannot be denied that interlocked global systems and the consequences of modernity have left little space for countries like Nepal to introspect and craft viable models of development. But it is global exhaustion with the same system and the continuous unravelling of capitalism’s ugly face which has modelled ‘men’ into merely economic beings that provides space for innovation.

In addition, highly influenced by multiple Indian models of development—Gujarat, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu—as well as Chinese, European and American models, along with Nepal’s internal dynamics, have created unwarranted tensions and social, economic and political pressures from various sides. Nepali society thus lives in perpetual crisis, failing to find answers to the most basic questions related to life, liberty and happiness.

Nevertheless, the start of this inward-looking process has to be applauded. The answers to the questions related to our development and prosperity lie neither in following our neighbours nor the Western nations; they can only be found through introspection. Development based on greed may help us become powerful beings but not necessarily prosperous.

Economic development alone does not necessarily ensure prosperity. Prosperity is rather a matter of choice. Men and nations can choose to prosper in many different ways. It would be naive to suggest that prosperity may lie in a ‘tradition’ but it would be equally wrong to assume that all traditional values are anti-development. It is like post-developmentalist Wolfgang Sachs saying, “the idea of development stands today like a ruin in the intellectual landscape” without accepting its inevitability or completely modelling oneself to ‘development ways’ without reflecting on the “crises it brings forth”.

Search for meaning  

Nepal’s glorious spiritual past, borne through the unison of the Hindu-Buddhist philosophy, its fragmented society that lives in pre-modern, modern and post-modern eras, its geopolitical location, its diverse and vibrant multi-ethnicity, its religiosity, its topography, its natural resources—and most importantly, its confidence to survive its idiosyncrasies, its inequalities among various social strata, its depleting natural environment, its unresponsive social and political elites—provide even greater reasons for serious contemplation.

And this contemplation must begin by questioning the notion and practices of development or rather defining what it means to be developed and prosperous. Is it the rampant expansion of roads and the building of skyscrapers? Is it the unquenched thirst for money and power? Is it the extraction and erosion of natural resources through all available means? Is it the process of emulating Western social, economic, and cultural practices?

Paul Brunton, one of the greatest 20th century explorers of the spiritual traditions of the East, writes in his book, A Search in Secret India, that Nepal has been the abode of highly acclaimed spiritual gurus of yoga and meditation who have consistently emphasised knowing the true ‘self’. Nepal’s advent to prosperity and development can only begin by attempting to addressing one seemingly basic, and yet complex question. Brunton eloquently asks, “What is the use of knowing about everything else when you do not yet know who you are?”

Despite being a proponent of Buddhist philosophy and  secular knowledge, Nepal’s historical trajectory suggests that all has not been well in its past. Nepal’s political and social class have ignored the voices of its large number of ‘poor’ majorities and ‘ethnic minorities’ for rights, opportunities and representations. This has hampered the political project of inclusive nation building.

Unless Nepal completes this political project, it may not be in a position to provide equal space for the larger population to delve in the process of unravelling their ‘self’. There is a need to invent a common ‘self’ that echoes and is weaved from diverse understandings, experiences and knowledge present in Nepal’s landscape.  

Once that ‘self’ is explored, it becomes even easier to identify that the ‘self’ is nothing more than our own illusion. As this illusion fizzles out, development and prosperity can be directed towards oneness. After all, the history of development hitherto, has been built on the value of ‘self’ at the expense of ‘others’. And Nepali society will continue to deplete and deteriorate unless it smashes the exploitative notion of development based upon the ‘self’.  

Defining prosperity

Reality cannot be intervened unless it is understood what requires intervention. Nevertheless, once reality is understood, perhaps, intervention may not be required. Or if we accept reality as a social construction, it might be easier to explore what should be deconstructed.

There is a need, therefore, to define ‘prosperity’ so that alternative developmental models can be crafted. Once prosperity is understood and defined, there may not be the need for any large scale development. Even if we conclude that prosperity is merely a social construct, a state of the social and individual psyche, it will still be easier to explore what elements of it should be deconstructed. Hence, the definition of ‘prosperity’ is the key or starting point to unravel the issue of our underdevelopment.

In order to comprehend prosperity, we must seek refuge in social and natural

science, humanities and religion. Economist Jeffrey D Sachs points out a need to incorporate economic development, education, healthcare, climate change, energy systems, biodiversity, politics and urbanisation as subjects of study to understand development as we prepare ourselves to define agendas for ‘sustainable development’ in post-2015 .

Sharma is a graduate of the London School of Economics

Published: 12-06-2014 09:52

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