The COVID-19 pandemic has given a few messages to the world. The countries with centralised public services, public healthcare system, planned economy, and better public policies such as China, Cuba, Vietnam, and Kerala state of India are dealing it more effectively than the capitalist countries like the USA, the UK, France, Spain and Italy. Therefore, whether it is an economic crisis or the health crisis, even the capitalist empire has no options than copying socialist models.
Constitutional provision The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 has clearly paved Nepal's way forward to socialism. And now Nepal Communist Party, whose destiny is also scientific socialism, is ruling the country with a two-thirds majority. In this context, one of the obvious tasks of this government is to show its commitment to socialism and start socialist economic reforms. For the communists in Nepal, who are already criticised for being democratic instead of socialist and favouring comprador capitalism, an economic transformation towards socialism is not a challenge but a golden opportunity and a tool of uplifting working classes, eradicate hunger and poverty as well as building a self-reliant economy. It is the right time to fulfill the mandate of the people, party, and respond to the situation creating bases of socialism. It is not easy to strengthen the economy of a country like Nepal characterised by high dependence on foreign aid, remittance, suffering a huge trade deficit, comprador capitalism, corruption all around and so on. It will be tougher amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But there is no other way. There is no alternative to the self-reliant economy, generating employment, prioritising cooperatives, encouraging public investment at least to fight with the pandemic. Both the constitution and the election manifesto of the party commit to building a sovereign economy. The government also has the role to ensure rights to food sovereignty along with rights to employment, housing and social security as the fundamental right of people. Therefore, the government should start limiting neo-liberal hegemony not only to respect the mandate of people but also for the welfare of the majority of people. Since one of the basic pillars of building sovereign economy is to stop the hegemony of international trade and open market over our local production, at present, the COVID-19 pandemic has done that. Now the foreign market will not have that much impact on Nepal’s agriculture and industrial production as the border is sealed. This is the right time to announce package programmes and grants to protect and promote localised production systems; both small scale agriculture and industries. There is no alternative to reviving hugely devastated state-led economic practice, which was quite strong 30 years back, if we talk about eradicating hunger and poverty and guaranteeing social justice. Time has come to promote local and national products and reduce the dependency on foreign markets. Another important reform to build self-reliant economy along with public sector is to emphasise cooperatives and public sectors. Even capitalist countries are moving towards a mixed economy with emphasis on the state's role after the financial crisis of the last decade and current pandemic. Therefore, it should be a great concern that in the name of economic growth, we need to stop talking about establishing a more special economic zone and bringing genetically modified and hybrid seeds, inviting foreign companies for investments and following company model agriculture. It is important to learn lesson from the world to fulfill the aspirations of working classes; otherwise it can be counterproductive to the long, historic and successful communist movement of Nepal. None of the left cadres want to see a strong Nepali economy where resources, finance and technology are grabbed by a few handful elites and majority suffering from poverty, hunger, unemployment, migration and so on. If present policies continue, not only inequality will increase but also country's politico-economy will be further dependent and guided by external market centres.
Focus on local products Amidst the pandemic, people are not expecting much. They want an uninterrupted supply of essential goods, foods and shelters for the needy one, rapid test, isolation, etc. It is also important to learn from the planned economy and state-run enterprises which provide 75 per cent of employment and protect localised production and distribution system. Subsidising and promoting local innovation, food and goods will also reduce huge imports. When we talk about sovereign economy and socialist transformation of Nepali character, small and rural enterprises can be much more immediate, feasible and effective means to give the best outputs benefiting large masses. In the case of agriculture, industrialisation, modernisation and commercialisation are a conspiracy of neo-liberalism to trap the small and marginal producers in a vicious cycle of poverty and displace them from their production system. Therefore, building the rural economy through agro-ecology based peasants’ agriculture, promoting microenterprises, state-run firms and factories, cooperatives and collective production-distribution channels, prioritising smoke free and localised industries are urgent to transform the local economy and move towards self-reliance. Localised economy only can run in all conditions of capitalist crisis, COVID-19 pandemic or even nationwide strike. Due to COVID-19, other sources of national economy such as remittance, tourism and other service sectors are expected to be affected. Agriculture can be one of the strength but it depends on how planners take the steps. A small effort can bring about a massive change in terms of income, employment and rural development as well as any negligence and foolishness can destroy the peasantry and agriculture. If we just think about utilising medicinal herbs, processing spices and supplying diverse seeds, there is a lot of demand in the surrounding market. Let's hope that neither the people's sovereignty, welfare of working-class and social justice is undermined, nor misery of the country's economy continues by the economic policies and programme of the left government in Nepal. Let's hope that in the coming days, our producers will not be displaced by cartels and syndicalism of open markets and serious attention will be paid towards the transformation of the Nepali economy benefiting large masses.
(Pokharel is a lecturer at Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus, Kathmandu. He can be reached at email@example.com)