Appearance is everything in international diplomacy. The inequality of the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship was as such established even before it was signed. For signing on Nepal’s behalf would be its prime minister (Mohan Sumsher Jang Bahadur Rana) while on India’s behalf the task had been delegated to its ambassador to Nepal, Chandreshwor Narayan Singh. The symbolism has never been lost on Nepalis. What also rankles is that the treaty was signed by an autocratic head of the government who could not in any way be seen as a representative of Nepali people. This line of argument has been at its strongest after the 2008 overthrow of monarchy and bestowing of complete sovereignty on Nepali people. There has subsequently been a strong demand for substantive revisions of the 1950 treaty; the ultra left wants it ditched altogether. More recent bilateral agreements on sharing benefits of water resources for irrigation and power have also come under the scanner, as they, rightly or wrongly, came to be seen as perpetuation of the ‘unequal’ 1950 treaty.
These days the media is rife with reports, interviews and panel discussions on the proposed power trade agreement between Nepal and India. In keeping with normal practice, drafts have been exchanged between the two countries and negotiations are underway. Since the Indian Prime Minister is planning to visit Nepal in the near future these negotiations have gained added momentum; so much so that the possible signing of a power deal during Narendra Modi’s visit has been projected as a start of a new era of relationship between the two countries. The Indian PM is said to have first signaled this change of era by inviting South Asian heads to his swearing-in.
Unfortunately, a long deficit of trust between Nepal and India has cast shadow on this seemingly new shift in Indian diplomacy. Following its leakage to the press, the proposed Indian draft agreement on power trade has evoked a commotion in the Nepali public life. The backdrop of the controversy over the draft is primarily based on two-pronged distrust: first among Nepalis themselves and second between India and Nepal. This distrust has its genesis on the inept handling of Indian foreign policy vis-à-vis Nepal. With the country entering a republican era, relation between India and Nepal has degraded from State-to-State level to the level of faceless apparatus of Indian bureaucracy and power aspirant politicians of Nepal.
Global news channels for some weeks have been flooded with the heart-rending images and news of the wrecks, explosions, death and suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza. Once again the continuity of the 60-year-long conflict hogs the limelight, portraying the asymmetrical conflict dominated by Israelis. It is therefore relevant to reflect on why Israel deems it necessary to respond in such manner and the results are lopsided against Palestinians. It is rather difficult not to support Israel’s right to defend itself. Perhaps the majority of reactions are influenced by emotions of death of the innocent Palestinian lives.
Israel-Palestine conflict germinated in the post-Second World War period when the West tried to get rid of Jews by settling them in Palestine, deemed as their homeland by Jews themselves. During the World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour formulated the Balfour Declaration of 1917 stating that Britain intended to create a Jewish homeland within the Palestinian territory while giving its words to the Ottoman Empire for the piece to belong to the Palestinians.
There is a history of Jewish diaspora and the statelessness of Jewish people and violent anti-Semitism. In Europe numbers of Jews were burnt, expelled and persecuted over long periods. To escape persecutions Jewish communities gradually adopted distinctive languages and cultures submerging themselves in non-Jewish environments. While some lived in peace, many still became victims of violent anti-Semitism.
Though late, the Ministry of Agriculture has taken the right step to establish a laboratory at Kalimati Fruit and Vegetable Wholesale Market to test vegetables for pesticide residues. When tested, some vegetable samples from the neighboring districts of Kathmandu were found inedible because of excessive pesticide residue.
Such results were expected given the improper uses of pesticides in pocket areas. Although the national average of pesticide use (142 grams actual ingredients per hectare) is low compared to other countries, vegetable farmers in some pocket areas apply pesticides at an alarming 1,450 grams per hectare. As shown by the test reports, many vegetable samples taken from the Kalimati Wholesale Market contain higher residue levels than legally allowed. Even worse results may be obtained if tests are carried out in other markets in the country. In fact, commercial production of vegetable is a story of misuse, overuse and abuse of chemical pesticides, knowingly or unknowingly.
On one side, the recent initiation of testing vegetables for pesticide has made consumers aware. They have started to ask pesky questions to the traders. The volume of vegetables marketed in Kathmandu Valley has started to decline. On the other, this initiation has become a headache for the farmers. What should they do now? Should they stop growing vegetables and explore other options? What will then happen to vegetable supply in Kathmandu? If a win-win solution cannot be found soon, the situation could get serious. An integrated approach is required.
The new UN Human Development Report puts Nepal at 145th position among the 187 countries it ranks. Nepal’s ranking is slightly better than Pakistan (146th) and Afghanistan (169th), but far behind Sri Lanka (73th), the best performer in South Asia. It is worth reminding ourselves that the concept of human development came in response to the concern that ranking countries only in terms of their nominal GDP would do great injustice to the billions of people who call these developing countries their home. India, for instance, ranked a respectable tenth in the World Bank’s nominal GDP rankings last year. But in human development, which measures human capability to successfully emerge from the clutches of deprivation and poverty, the country ranks a lowly 135th. The shift to this ‘capability approach’ has meant renewed focus on state’s responsibilities towards the poor and the marginalized. In practical terms, this translates into added focus on universal social services, robust social protection, gender equality and mass-scale employment generation.
We are in the process of building an inclusive state, where people from all socio-economic and regional backgrounds have equal opportunities in terms of healthcare, education, vital services and employment. There are big gaps to fill. Although only a tad over 25 percent of the population is now ranked as poor, the figure, in many ways, hides more than it reveals. For instance, the poverty level in the Mid-Western region is 45 percent, which rises to 46 percent in the Far-Western region. Moreover, poverty is concentrated on dalit and janajati communities. Another significant marker of disparity is that in a country where nearly 80 percent people are dependent on agriculture, 70 percent households have land holdings of less than a hectare, not even enough to meet their subsistence needs. Thus there is a strong case for more equitable land reforms in the new federal democratic republic. Quotas and reservations across ethnic and gender lines, if done right, could have a strong positive impact too. These things do not always make economic sense—at least not through the narrow neo-liberal prism—and yet are crucial for the creation of an equitable welfare state.