India needs to see South Asia develop to full potential: Nepali billionaire Binod Chaudhary (IANS Interview)

New Delhi, May 5 (IANS) India, as the largest member of the South Asian comity of nations, needs to display some degree of responsibility towards the region so that it develops to its fullest potential, Nepal’s sole dollar billionaire Binod Chaudhary has said.

In a free-wheeling interview here with IANS, Chaudhary stressed upon the need for India to have all its neighbours on its side and take them along on its journey to becoming a global economic power.

Meanwhile, Nepal — which has the dubious distinction of being among the 20 poorest nations in the world — will have to stop playing India against China in order to gain from the economic advantages that a burgeoning Indian economy offers, said Chaudhary who is well-known for a practical business approach that has won him advantages at home and abroad.

The man behind the immensely popular Wai Wai noodles (Wai Wai has sold more than a billion packets in India alone), Chaudhary, 60, is one of Asia’s most prominent businessmen. President of the Chaudhary Group, which has variegated interests ranging from banking, insurance and finance to housing, he has invested in hotels and real estate, and collaborates, among others, with India’s Taj Group.

In 2013, he became the first Nepali entrepreneur to be listed as a dollar billionaire by Forbes. His passion for expanding his business, in the face of stiff challenges, is legendary.

In the backdrop of a nearly six-month-long “misunderstanding” between the two close neighbours that only got resolved this February — but not before a virtual blockading of the Himalayan nation — Chaudhary called for “introspection” in bilateral relations.

“Cordial relations between India and Nepal pave the way for successful entrepreneurial ventures… but when differences appear, bilateral economic ties get adversely affected,” said Chaudhary.

His multinational Nepali conglomerate, with a portfolio of 122 companies, is spread over five continents with 76 renowned brands in the global market.

Regretting that Kathmandu has not been able to maintain “continuous and cordial relations” with New Delhi, Chaudhary pointed out that Nepal has had 22 governments in the past 25 years since the partyless Panchayat system was overthrown after a popular movement in 1990.

“There is no consistency and as long as decisions are made on the basis of who to reward, a cordial relationship cannot be achieved. We (in Kathmandu) do not have a very consistent and continuous India policy. The India policy in Nepal shifts from person to person,” observed Chaudhary, whose grandfather came to Nepal in the late 19th century from Rajasthan.

Stressing the “overall need for both sides to do a true introspection”, he pointed out that while India cannot afford to have discontented neighbours around, Nepal cannot afford not to have a highly cordial relationship with India.

“Nepal’s progress and social growth is intertwined with India,” he observed.

The richest man in Nepal blamed the lingering political instability in the Himalayan nation for strained relations with southern neighbour India and said Nepali politicians continued to play the anti-India card all the time and talked about pseudo-nationalism.

“But what have they been able to give to Nepali people by playing that card? Isn’t it time that Nepali politicians realised that the strategies they had adopted in the relationship with India have not worked? Playing India vs China has not worked too….”

Chaudhary also bemoaned the fact that Kathmandu has not been able to create a lobby in New Delhi “strong enough to communicate our grievances to the right people”.

“We, as businessmen, have been able to do it through our own businesses or our philanthropic work… It is not difficult to deal with Indian politicians and bureaucracy but the political establishment has not been able to do it,” said Chaudhary who, in his relentless march to his billion-dollar empire, has faced innumerable problems but overcame them through his pragmatic approach.

Commenting on India’s economic progress and suggesting what Nepal could do to gain from this scenario, Chaudhary said: “The global image of India has transformed and people associate it with respect. Nepal needs to build on this advantage by improving its ties with India.”

“To a large extent, Indian politicians and bureaucracy have become business-friendly and you can deal with India. I think we are seeing a phase in India where, if you are willing to follow the rules, if you are willing to be respectful to the system and the regime around you, pay your taxes, respect the norms that you are expected to follow, then the Indian bureaucracy and politicians will support you in doing business….”

Binod Chaudhary was in New Delhi for the India-release of his autobiography in English “Making It Big” (published by Penguin Random House). The story of how Nepal’s richest businessman made his billions was first released in Nepali three years ago.

(Deepak Goel reported from Nepal in the 1990s and continues to keenly follow events in the Himalayan nation. He can be contacted at deepak.g@ians.in)

–IANS

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