Nepal's Failed Development: Reflections on the Mission and the Maladies (review)
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Nepal's Failed Development: Reflections on the Mission and the Maladies. Devendra Raj Panday. Kathmandu: Nepal South Asia Centre, 1999, viii and 432 pp., tables, graphs, references, and index. Nepali Rupees (Rs) 350.00 paperback.

Yes, failed development indeed. There is no doubt about it. The story of this book is eerily ominous as the social Darwinian project called "development" has increasingly turned into a muted but open class war, raging all across the landscape, from urban trenches to rural fringes. What is salient about this warfare is that its breathes no fire. It sheds no blood. It does not even produce a hissing echo of battle hymns. But the war goes on, silently stalking the very segment of the population that development was designed to uplift. Yet, ironically, "development" has become a popular cause among its victims (as well as its beneficiaries). There is a messianic belief that development is the salvation to their miseries. In the historic class warfare, development, as we know it today, has therefore become the new opiate of the masses. The masses are either so intoxicated or so debilitated by this new opiate that they seem to have lost their basic instinct about class injustice to wage a battle against the very class enemy that keeps them trapped in trenches. In the meantime, for the "haves," development is a omnipotent weapon. The beauty of this weapon is that it kills two birds with one stone. By raising the mighty sword of development, the "haves" can evoke a populist rhetoric to legitimize their claim that they are launching projects to alleviate the misery of the masses, while in effect harvesting most of the fruits that development actually bears. So development has two distinct faces: for the "have-nots" it is an eloquent rhetoric that engenders hopes no matter how tantalizing these hopes are and for the "haves" it is an elegant treasure trove that serves to heighten their class control and power. This is the essence of development, the post-World War II incarnation of social Darwinism.

True, in terms of its contextual reference, Panday's book is a gut-wrenching story of how development has failed Nepal and the vast majority of its citizens. In reality, however, the story transcends national boundaries. After all, what is happening in Nepal is by no means unique; the tragedy intersects a much wider circle of development experience and experimentation throughout the underdeveloped world. That is, remove any reference to Nepal in the book, and the story will vividly reflect the tragedy unfolding in virtually every underdeveloped country, almost like a Shakespearean tale of mischief and miseries. That's why the book is not some polemical narrative of Nepal's development maladies, dubiously crafted in Panday's creative mind. It is a real drama, slowly dripping through the nib of his fountain pen, a drama that pulsates in every vein that can feel the pain of poverty. And it is both saddening and maddening at the same time.

To set the stage for this captivating drama, Dr. Devendra Raj Panday heavily relies on a triangular format that is artfully woven in his profound experience as a prominent player within Nepal's policymaking body since its dawn of development in the 1950s, his keen observation of development trends as a citizen, and his firm grounding in development theories. It is precisely this triangular interplay of experience, observation, and theory that gives this book its inner soul and outer beauty. Nepal's Failed Development is a fairly straightforward book that not only provides a detailed profile of the country's development scenes and conditions, but also a thorough analysis of how and why development has failed. Although Panday does not necessarily plow any new ground in his analysis of development failures, he sheds refreshing insights. What he lends to the book is an authentic voice, a voice immersed in sober reflections and experience. Simply expressed, there are few scholars in Nepal who are as qualified and bold as Panday to write a book of this caliber, a book that is bound to be a classic treatise on Nepal's contemporary development. It takes enormous personal guts...