Has democracy been helpful to reduce poverty in Nepal?
If one observe the post 1990s poverty indicator issued by World Bank then its crystal clear that Nepal’s poverty increased to 44.4% (1995-96) from 41.4% (1984-85) and 33% (1976-97). To be noted, post 1990s political history of Nepal marks the radical shift from traditional ‘isolationism and protectionism’ (Shakya, 2009, p.173) economic policies imposed by Royal autocratic actors to ‘free and autonomous liberal market’ economic policies advocated by neo-liberal democratic forces. The aforementioned facts and background directly questions over the restoration of democracy and its positive consequences over the poverty reduction.
However if one analyses the nature of poverty that has grasped Nepal then it is evident from the available literature that generally two kinds of poverty exist in Nepal. First, one is urban poverty, which covers the minor section of major cities of Nepal having low-income strength and relatively lower standard of living despite having access to wide opportunities created by liberal democratic environment in city area. The second one is the Rural poverty which covers the major bulk of populations of villages of Nepal which have little or no access to opportunities given by free democratic change. To be precise, urban poverty decreased to 17.8% (1995-96) from 19.2% (1984-85) and 22% (1976-77) while rural poverty (which is dominant in Nepal) increased to 46.6% (1995-96) from 43.1% (1984) and 33% (1976-77). these changes in poverty indicators and increasing free market policy based on democratic principles suggest that the democracy Nepal restored in 1990 though opened up global market, issued foreign investment policy, prepared and implemented various five year development plans couldn’t distribute those basic opportunities uniformly to all Nepalese. The urban population, which were already rich and had strong hold in market, grabbed the opportunities leaving the major section of rural population, which were still finding hard to sustain their daily life. This tragic phenomenon finds its relevance in Amartya Sen’s assertion that Democracy can flourish only if it guarantees equality and equal shares of benefit and losses (Sen, 2000, p.187), which is quite contrary in Nepalese context. Sen’s conceptual framework of democracy and freedom might have failed to decrease Nepal’s poverty because Nepalese government took the face value of democracy and failed to materialize equal access of those freedoms and accompanying opportunities to all the people of Nepal.
However, the donor-driven programs and projects related to poverty alleviation including Millennium Development Goals are also the outcome of democracy in one or the other way. That has been taken as somehow effective to reduce poverty because the major section of Nepalese population living in rural areas are experiencing their basic human and economic needs including primary health care, primary education, minimizing child mortality and access to employment opportunities through donor-driven programs in post 1990s though previous autocratic government system failed to address the issue of poverty even after starting to receive aid during 1950s and 1960s.
Hence, it can be agreed that democracy in Nepal has created free market and environment for exercising various political rights including voting rights but then since democracy, in Sen’s term, failed to remove those unfreedom from the marginalized and isolated section of rural area, as it was during Panchayat regime and Rana regime, democracy hasn’t been so much effective in reducing poverty.
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