It is a strange irony that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming at a time Nepal does not even have its ambassador in New Delhi. Usually, it is the resident ambassador who lays the groundwork for state visits. Modi’s team deserves credit for going out of its way to fix a state-level visit for their extremely busy prime minister, without any help from the Nepali mission. We might chide India all we like for meddling in Nepali politics; and part of the blame might be justifiable too. But it is hard to apportion all the fault on the ‘big brother’ when you can’t even appoint, for over three-long-year, an envoy to your supposedly most important foreign mission. In any case, ambassadorships are not something to be chopped and changed frequently. Stability in foreign policy becomes even more important for a turbulent polity like Nepal.
The impending visit of Narendra Modi is generating unprecedented buzz. Rightly so. This is one historic occasion for Nepal which has in recent times struggled to make itself heard at the high table in New Delhi—a fact most starkly reflected in its singular failure over the last ten years to get the Indians to commit to a prime ministerial visit to Nepal. Even if nothing else is achieved in Modi’s two-day stay, just the fact that a sitting Indian prime minister is visiting Nepal, its ‘closest’ neighbor, after a lull of 17 years is rich in symbolism. More than anything else, it signals the readiness of new leadership in New Delhi to reengage on a political level. The previous Manmohan Singh government, it seemed, was happy to delegate all things Nepal to its line agencies and spies, to devastating consequences.
The latent anti-India sentiment reached its apogee as one after another shenanigan of RAW became public. Our political leaders, it appeared, were at the beck and call of its Nepal agents. It hurt the Nepali pride no less to see their top leaders, past and present prime ministers included, line up to pay obeisance to even minor leaders from India. The Indian interlocutors, for their part, readily embraced their ascribed role of ‘masters’. It was thus a pleasant surprise to witness Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj taking pains to individually visit our top leaders, in a rare sign of respect from visiting Indian government representatives.
Ten years ago, the world emerged from the dot-com bust and started to look more soberly at the Internet’s potential. While speculative greed and fear of missing out might have overplayed the short-term outlook, the Internet’s immense longer-term prospects were never in doubt. I, and other optimistic economists, assumed that free information and communication would herald an era of rapid productivity growth and improved wellbeing—to a greater or lesser extent—for everyone, regardless of their skills, wealth, or social background. Were we right?
In many respects, the revolution in information and communications technology (ICT) has delivered more than it promised—and often in unpredictable ways. For many, the true marvel of the digital age is its creation of a parallel universe. Anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection can gossip with (or about) virtual friends; witness extraordinary events that may or may not have happened; or play games in a mock world of incomparable complexity.
The oldest hospital in the country is sick. It has been so for a long-long time. Patients visiting Bir Hospital often come back scarred. One recounts how a medical intern badly botched a tooth extraction, numbing the left half of his face for the rest of his life. Another patient, who had visited a skin doctor at the hospital after contracting chickenpox, was summarily dismissed with a prescription for a skin ointment that had nothing to do with the disease, as he later learned. Then there are more serious allegations of how the doctors there perform ‘unnecessary’ surgeries; huge incisions are apparently made where a few small holes would have done. The reason thousands of patients keep flocking to Bir despite these horror stories is that they have no option. For the poor the private hospitals in Kathmandu are prohibitively expensive, especially if they have a major long-term illness. For many of them Bir or TUTH are their only options. But notwithstanding its centrality in our public health system, it would not be wrong to say that Bir is the worst run big public hospital in Nepal. Even the TUTH, itself forever beset with this or that problem, gets good patient ratings by comparison.
From time to time, I have dilemmas, trilemmas, decalemmas and even pentadecalemmas on what to write in this space. There are today many developing news stories that have the potential to provoke editorial comment.
I start by talking to people or scanning the media for a compelling topic. It must be relevant, timely, interesting and potent. Above all, for me, writing about it must be fun.