Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Rules of the Game

So now the big April 8 protest program being instigated, once again, by the drumbeat of the 7-party alliance, is apon us. blogdai feels there may be something different afoot this time.

Official Mascot: 7-party Alliance

Our friends in Kathmandu have told us that it is no secret that the Maoists are sending "special operatives" to the demonstration. The King has vowed a violent crack-down, and even old Girija is treating this protest as a final "mother of all protests."

It's no wonder. The King is tired of all this incessant protesting and both the Maoists and the 7-parties are broke and scavenging for support and relevance.

There is a real chance that the Parties and the Maoists won't show up if the King puts on a pre-emptive show of strength. We've seen this before. If everybody comes to the ball, however; look for a more violent affair. These ridiculous protests have worn thin and everbody would just as soon be rid of them.

Pity, all anyone had to do was sit down and talk, plain and simple. The King offered numerous chances for dialogue. The peaceful resolution of disputes is one of the first hallmarks of a functioning democracy; it looks like the parties and the Maoists would rather be rigid and go for a power grab. blogdai asks the Parties: What would it have hurt to have taken the King's invitation for dialogue? What would it have hurt to have taken part in the elections? If one thinks in democratic terms, then the answer is: nothing. If one is solely concerned about losing political power and a place at the table of corruption, then the answer is: everything.

blogdai has said it before and will say it again: NEPAL IS NOT READY FOR DEMOCRACY.

A democracy requires constant attention, maintenance and selfless sacrifice in order to thrive. The 7-party interperetation of this is to simply do whatever you want, get rich and forget about accountability. This is not democracy, this is anarchy. Democracies have rules and guidelines that preserve the safety and rights of all citizens, not just a rampaging few.

Democracy is best viewed as a team sport; a game if you will. The only way the game works is when all parties agree to play by the same rules. Does it do any good for a single party to continuously scream it's self-centered demands? No. In a real democracy you play the game to get what you want; you don't unilaterally seek to change the game in order to meet your needs. Don't like the rules of the game? Fine. Get a majority and change them through the democratic process. Protests don't work? Then find out what DOES work under the democracy game and go with it. Simply demanding that your position be adopted and boycotting, bandhing and disrupting the lives of peaceful citizens while refusing to dialogue with opposing viewpoints is about as far from democratic as one can get. In fact, it's autocratic.

We here at blogdai have recently had our own little microcosm of a 7-party tantrum. Some of our anonymous posters can tolerate neither editing nor criticism. Rather than play the democratic game and look for a rational means of expressing their views, these posters have resulted to bullying, forgery, harrassment, gross repetition, blackmail and stubborn insistence on their views in the face of clear facts to the contrary. Like a democracy, our blog has rules. We want a higher level of discourse, not a shout-fest, so we edit those posts that seek to hijack discussion space and relevance. Unfortunately, this practice has now risen to the level that blogdai now has to monitor all postings prior to their publication here. Pity again. In order to preserve the democratic pillars of our blog, we've had to resort to an undemocratic practice.

It's frustrating, but I find the parallels fascinating.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Our Kind of People

blogdai has been thinking about candidates for our Nepal Advocacy Group (NAG). We don't necessarily need spotless puritans or political neophytes, just people who seem to be able to put their own needs behind their sense of duty to their fellow citizens. Corrupt? perhaps, but not to the point of ineffectiveness. Long-term vision? Absolutely. A few names come to mind, love 'em or hate 'em, that might fill the NAG bill:

Lily Thapa: Director of Nepal's Women for Human Rights.
Kunda Dixit: Sure he's a journalist and a Dixit, but he ain't his brother.
Naryan Singh Pun: Corrupt and arrogant, but is a no-nonsense implementer.
Foreigners: Time to stop being paranoid and solicit their advice.

And, Keshab Sthapit, former mayor of Kathmandu and a blogdai aquaintance. Have reprinted his interview below from Kunda Dixit's Nepali Times. He'll take his baksheesh from time to time, but he cleaned up kathmandu, did much to control traffic and pollution, ran a tight administration and basically, GOT THINGS DONE. No wonder he split with the UML: He's effective. He's also no royalist but has a longer term vision on what was necessary for Nepal. This guy has seen it all on the streets of Kathmandu, nothing fools him. So, here it is:

So you left UML to support the king?

I quit because Madhab Nepal started acting like a king himself. The UML has displayed double standards in the past. The leaders talked about regression and at the same time approached the king with their petition. They were also happy when parliament was dissolved. The party itself is authoritarian.

What’s your opinion of the 12-point understanding?

I had never realised that the Maoists were so clever. They are using the seven parties to attack the monarchy. There is no escape for the parties, which are now even willing to give shelter to the rebels.

Keshab Sthapit

So the parties have fallen into the Maoists’ trap?

The Maoists are leading and the parties are following. For so many years, the parties have been organising rallies but they have failed to progress.

The king easily brushed them off, especially because of the meagre support for their demonstrations. This forced them to seek from the rebels. You see more people joining them now but are they really from the seven parties?

Does this not push the country further into crisis?

The problem is the leading parties themselves. On one hand, the Nepali Congress has become a family affair while the UML displays double standards. The people have virtually no trust in them.

So, there is no hope with the parties?

The parties have no agenda at all. They had none before reaching their understanding with the Maoists. The parties have no sense of self-sacrifice and still don’t realise the mistakes they made while in power.

Then what’s the solution?

The 12-point understanding is pushing the country towards more crisis while the king is going his own way. He has to call everyone for talks.

You’ve criticised the king’s move, yet you support him?

The UML have been falsely labelling me a royalist. A king has to be like a king. He has to call for a national assembly that can come up with a common agenda. Both the Maoists and the king have clear agendas. It is the seven-party alliance that does not.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Absolutely Insane

Girija Prassad Koirala

It is no wonder ol' Girija hasn't given a one-to-one interview since 2003: The man is completely nuts!

In a staggering display of hegemonistic imperialism, Girija sets himself up as the only relevant player in the ongoing conflict. When asked about conflicting views coming out of the Maoist camp, the old fossil replies; "I have met them, and will rely on what they have said to me in person. Leave the Maoist matter to me. It is our responsibility to bring them in—no one else can do that..” Thanks Girija, the Maoists grew in size and brutality under your tenure, what makes you think you can suddenly revoke the 10 years of savage strengthening that you facilitated?

Then the kicker: "You will be surprised at how many layers of problems will be solved the day Parliament is restored. First and foremost, it will guarantee peace with the Maoists."
Excuse us, "guarantee peace" with the Maoists? The only thing your former parliament "guaranteed" was an increase in Maoist atrocities. There has not been one hint, one whiff of an inclination that the Maoists will slow down their violence, much less guarantee peace.

" ....the king must understand how precarious the situation has become now. If he reaches out, of course we can help. If he does not, who can take responsibility for what happens next..” Throwing your hands up in the air and saying that you will not be responsible for violence is not only cheap and childish, but demonstrates your lack of leadership; and more severely, your approval of violence as a means to achieve you objectives. A real statesman would have condemned any form of violence and looked for a peaceful means to resolve this crisis. Also, was it convenience or senility that made you overlook the King's very emphatic attempt to "reach out" to the parties in his speech a few weeks ago?

It is telling that Girija feels he has an inside line on Maoist thinking. The Maoists will feed his ego for as long as it takes them to get through the political back-door. This meeting in Delhi to "clarify"' the 12-point agreement was done under western diplomatic pressure. Girija wouldn't have been bothered had the Yanks not proclaimed the agreement to be a farce. Now, he has to find some relevance, quickly; hence the breathless and hasty forthcoming announcement of an "accord" with the Maoists. I wonder if it will ever occur to Girija, perhaps while in the throes of his keen Maoist insight, that Prachanda is playing him like a violin. blogdai thinks Girija knows Maoists because Girija knows insanity.

(A debate between Girija and Prachanda: Hours of babbling rhetoric with not one clear, concise sentence! A holiday for stream of consciousness mavens. )

From Donald Camp to Christina Rocca, everytime someone from the U.S. State Department talks to Koirala, they tell him to sit down and shut up. The only problem is, many Nepalis see Koirala as an "elder statesman" and apply entirely too much significance to his babbling. It also doesn't help that the Nepali media makes front-page headlines out of Girija's every bowel movement.

It may just be up to all of us here at blogdai to show the world that this ridiculous old emperor not only has no clothes, but no sanity as well.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Power for a Brighter Nepal

Nepal is not on the verge of collapse—militarily nor economically. All these rumors about a collapse, and articles that the King is preparing to go in exile, and that the Americans in Nepal being called to a town meeting and requested to prepare to evacuate on short notice, and that the Maoists have completed encircled Kathmandu, are all propaganda spread for one or the other reason, and these things will continue until the Nepalese media becomes more professional, accountable, and not driven by the smell of money and cynicism.

I would, for a change, like to divert the readers' attention, to a crisis that is genuinely hurting Nepal. Power. Electrical Power. As we all know, Nepal is witnessing severe power shortages since the last few months now, and in the absence of rain to fill our aquifers, it is only going to get worse in the coming days. It has come to our attention that the water in Kulekhani dam, the only storage type hydropower project in Nepal, is going to last less 20 days. This is a matter of grave concern. Nepal currently has an installed capacity of a little over 600 MW, but actual generation is far, far less than this. Currently, we are generating less than 150 MW, while peak demand is over 550 MW. That is a deficit of 400 MW!

So what put us in this situation? Yes, the lack of rainfall this winter has certainly exacerbated the problem. No rainfall, less water in our rivers, less generation. However, the fact is that even if we had normal rainfall, we would still be experiencing load shedding because the majority of our run-of the-river hydropower plants produce less than 30% of installed capacity during the winter months due to reduced stream flow, a natural phenomenon in our monsoon dependent hydrology. A solution to this would be building more storage type facilities which could store the excess water during the monsoon, and utilize this in the dry winter months. The Kulekhani is precisely built for this purpose, and in previous years, generation from this plant would mostly be done during the winter months when other plants experience reduced generation. However, this year the Kulekhani was operational in full gear from the end of the last monsoon season, because Nepal failed to develop enough additional hydropower projects to keep up with our ever increasing domestic demand.

So that brings us to the question of why we have not been able to build additional plants. The rhetoric has always been that Nepal's domestic demand is low, Nepal does not have the financial resources to expand hydropower plants, and that India, the only market for power export, is not willing to buy power from Nepal at a reasonable price. THIS IS ALL BULLSHIT!

Here are a few facts to challenge such a claim:

1. Nepal's domestic demand is certainly far greater than the current supply, which makes economic sense to investment in this sector.

2. India's current power deficit is over 8,000 MW (yes, eight thousand megawatts)!! This has been cited as the major impediment to faster economic growth in India, which has forced them to recently sign a deal with the US to allow civilian nuclear development. You must be nuts to believe that India will not buy power from us!

3. India is Financing Bhutan’s major hydropower projects (Chukha 336 MW and Tala 1020 MW) on a 60% grant 40% loan at an interest rate of 5-9%. About 70% of the power is exported to India at a rate of approximately INR 2 per unit. Last year the Government of Bhutan earned $52 million. Once the Tala hydel is completed (mid 2006), Bhutan’s annual revenue from hydropower export will reach $214 million, and this is expected to increase Bhutan’s per capita income from the current $700 to $1200! FROM ONE MAJOR HYDROPOWER PROJECT!

4. Nepal boasts of 83,000 MW of hydropower potential, of which 43,000 MW is techno-economically feasible. Yet we have tapped less than 1% of that potential, while Bhutan will generate twice as much as us by the end of this year.

5. The West Seti hydel project (750 MW) which was to create 352,000 jobs and earn Nepal $308 million annually has still not started. No other large projects are in sight. With the killing of the Arun III dream, all investors seem to have backed out, especially with the ongoing insurgency. The environmental outcry on this project were all fabricated lies. So what if a small patch of forest would have been destroyed in constructing the access road. With the power and income from such a large project, we would have saved 100 other such forests by now. We probably could have attracted a lot of the manufacturing jobs that went to Bangladesh and other South Asian countries if we only had that additional power. We could be earning over $100 million from exporting the power to India. But all that is gone because a few “environmentalists” blew up the reality for a couple of thousand dollars worth of consultancy money, and the 24 million people of Nepal lost.

6. However, to top all this is one fact and that is the LICENSING of HYDROPOWER PROJECTS IN NEPAL! As we stand, the Department of Electricity Development, within the Ministry of Water issues the license to survey, develop, and operate hydel projects in Nepal. The problem is that it has sold licenses to almost every viable site throughout the Kingdom of Nepal and guess what? The survey license holder has 5 years to survey the site, and he/she can easily extend the duration for another 5 years. There are no performance guarantees required. This means that the license, once issued, is valid for 10 years without having to do anything, and this is precisely what is happening. Someone out there has a license to every potential hydropower project identified by the government, and they are demanding 15-30% share from any prospective investor to “use” their license or asking for huge sums of money to sell them!!

This is the main reason we have not seen investments in hydropower in Nepal.


If we start now, and the government revokes these licenses and reissues them to those parties that are genuine, and the Maoists do not disrupt construction and operation, my estimate is that we will start catching up to meet domestic demand in 3-4 years. This is the fastest things can turn around. However, it is difficult for a government to just revoke a license that it issued in the first place, so they will probably give these bastards a few years to demonstrate progress, and revoke the license if they fail to perform. This will extent the timeframe for another 2-3 years. So I seriously don’t see any change for at least 5 years. Now, isn’t this a concern of National Importance?

As the Nepal Advocacy Group, I think we should take up this challenge and advocate for a Brighter Nepal!!