As a former broadcast journalist and ex-employee of the World Bank’s Nepal office, Rajib Upadhya is the right person at the right time to come out with an account of the political economy of Nepal’s development since 1990.
The title of Upadhya’s book released on 5 August, Cabals and Cartels: An Up Close Look at Nepal’s Turbulent Transition and Disrupted Development, pretty much sums up its content. During his tenure at the Bank between 1995-2018, Upadhya served as the eyes and ears for successive bosses in their dealings with Nepal’s politicians and bureaucrats.
The result is an insider look at how the powerful multilateral lender interacted with Nepal’s officialdom. Over the years, the Bank has on the one hand been criticised for meddling too much in state functions, and on the other for not meddling enough when Nepal was in deep crisis. So, it must be doing some things right.
The book begins in the heydays of the mid-1990s when democracy and the market economy brought hope that Nepal could finally take a great leap forward. However, some comrades took ‘great leap forward’ to mean something else, and decided to wage a ruinous war.
Upadhya’s first task at the Bank was to work on a report titled Political Economy of Reform in Nepal which concluded that politicians with short-term time horizons, a rent-seeking culture, and vested interest groups were preventing reforms. Sound familiar? Cabals and Cartels takes us through the early reform years of the 1990s, the insurgency, Gyanendra’s reign, the peace process, and finally the new federal system – with Nepal’s politico-business nexus as the thread running through it all.
The book is a roll call of World Bank experts who visited Nepal: Ashraf Ghani, Mac Maharaj, Emmanuel Tumsiime. There were Bank’s successive South Asia chiefs like Mieko Nishimizu and Praful Patel, as well as past Country Directors that Upadhya advised: Hans Rothenbühler, Ken Ohashi, and Johannes Zutt.
They all came and went at various historical milestones in Nepal’s past 25 years, and Upadhya’s book has revealing anecdotes about their meetings with Nepali officials.