Unlike widely touted, Nepal’s development fiasco cannot be exclusively attributed to politicization of development. Instead, segregating development from politics to make it a solely technical process has rendered it a failure. For long, development has adopted a rigid ‘economic’ framework without taking into account the political environment that development operates in. Development is not only about economic growth, infrastructure development and access to basic services; it also needs to address social facets of underdevelopment created by unequal power relations that are themselves the products of caste and class differences. The socio political implication of development necessitated that it interacts with politics often and at all stages. Development operates within the realm of power and seeks to address unequal distribution of power and resources, which further lays stress on its political aspect. Development is functional through people who have influence at the policy realm. Thus to ascertain, transform and foster development, the operating environment needs to be enabled.
Politics in contemporary Nepal is all permissive. At the national level, the constitution writing process is dependent on political consensus and at the local level, governance mechanisms are the political parties filling in the vacuum created by the absence of an elected government. When development endeavours rely on the consensus between divergent political fractions, the focus should be on incentivizing the development-politics nexus to fill in the policy-action gap.
Nepal’s failed development exercise does not owe solely to politicizing as Khanal contends (in the adjoining article). The problem is myriad and cannot be attributed to one factor. First, the mention of INGOs as a vehicle for development features heavily in Khanal’s writing, as if to imply that Nepal’s development is conditional on INGO mercy with no role of the state. He fails to take into account the Nepali bureaucracy even once, despite its role in service delivery. Unlike donor groups, the bureaucracy does not cherry pick certain geographic locations to deliver goods and services in order to foster development. Hence, analysing development through the capacity of the bureaucracy to deliver goods and services becomes pertinent; by the same token, any analysis that ignores the role of bureaucracy in fostering development is incomplete.
Second, development is a process with systematic stages. Khanal fails to segregate different components of development and analyse which stage/component has been politicized and in what ways that has hindered development. Nepal’s faulty developmental process starts right from the planning stage. It would not be wrong to assert that during the time bureaucracy, donors and the civil society chart out action plan for development political fractions are largely excluded. In the name of “broad-based support”, political tokenism is always present in the planning stage, but the need for a genuine political operating environment with political leaders involved at all stages is neglected. When it comes to implementation, political support is sought for survival of these developmental plans and their execution, which surely doesn’t prepare political parties to implement or monitor the development programs.
Third, the development institutions feed into the policy realm by laying out guidelines and priorities. However, Khanal assumes a simplistic calculus of politics vs development, as if the two were homogenous blocs. The competing interests of what Khanal portrays as sole vehicles to Nepal’s development—the INGOs and donors—have often paralysed development planning and practise.
Fourth, the article draws a faulty correlation. While the writer attributes positives of development to cooperation through INGOs, he attributes lack of development to political inaction. He also asserts that hobnobbing between developmental institutions and political parties is necessitated for the survival of INGOs. While he says this nexus has hindered political accountability, he fails to point to a culture of embezzlements and inequality within and through development institutions. Is accountability only to be endorsed and practised by political parties while development organizations and NGOs are let completely off the hook?
Khanal says the “claim of being apolitical has been nothing but a tactic to provide refuge and a safe working environment.” Conversely, he fails to excavate the covert political colours, ideological drive and vested interest that donor groups and INGOs operate with. This dysfunctional character of developmental organizations has questioned the value of aid and assistance and is definitely worse than political affiliation.
To say that “The constantly changing political and governmental landscape makes it difficult for development organizations in Nepal to carry on their activities” is contradictory as development is devised to adapt to changing circumstances. Transforming changing socio-political and economic questions into technical and administrative ones is a developmental requisite. “One size fits all” approach to development are unlikely to work.
If all development ills are to be attributed to politics, then politics also becomes the sole panacea. If politics is the all-pervasive problem to development, the answer to the country’s developmental woes is definitely reformed politics. Further, it might sound preachy, but a shared responsibility and genuine partnership between development and politics is the only way out.
The author is a graduate in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi