Wait for new breakthroughs in our India business: Binod Chaudhary

Binod Chaudhary
Binod Chaudhary's autobiographical recollection is no less than a rags -to -riches story spanning three generations. Peppered with anecdotes, Prabha Chandran, Chaudhary reflects on the challenges of building a global empire from a relatively small country like Nepal, his growing operations in India and a possible future in politics, which he dubs "the game of impossibles". Edited excerpts:

You are known as Nepal's Noodle King and the country's only Forbes billionaire. What are the particular challenges and advantages of doing business in Nepal?

Well, we do have our share of challenges as we are transiting from monarchy to a republican state and writing a new constitution. We are going through historic events that always take time to consolidate. This has led to challenges of governance, unpredictability and a lack of stability in policies. However, on a positive note, it has caused more than six million Nepalese to go abroad and work. They remit more than $6 billion annually, resulting in huge liquidity in the banking system.

Political instability has caused a backlog in infrastructure development resulting in deficits in power, while the supporting infrastructure for tourism and economic development is lacking. If one can focus on these areas, one can earn unthinkable dividends. Of course, as in any third world country with political instability, you have to learn how to manage the environment.

Your investments in India have had their ups and downs. Describe your biggest successes and disappointments here?

The strategy we adopted for growing Wai Wai was to penetrate the rural markets first. Secondly, to create a manufacturing base within a radius of 600 km for distribution. Thirdly, creating a niche market for our product, which is completely different from all other instant noodles made and sold. Others require to be cooked while we are instant, straight from the packet in the true sense. We already have eight plants in six locations and are growing rapidly without any advertising. It is no small achievement.

Likewise, we have created a mark in the wildlife business with our partners in Taj Safaris, besides our major joint ventures in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand, Nepal and now Dubai with Taj. We have also acquired a majority in the Fern brand of hotels with 35 flags in operation.

Our focus in the food park business in Rajasthan, and hopefully in Bihar, will open new avenues for agro-based businesses in India. So, I am quite happy with what we have achieved in India. India remains our top priority and you will see many new breakthroughs that the group will come out with soon.

Relations between India and Nepal have soured. What are the irritants in our relationship and how can we resolve them?

That is a tricky matter. India is often seen as having a role in every major political development. Nepal's fragile politics has been responsible for frequent changes of government, which has not helped the country's growth. This has to change. India has to be seen as a real leader contributing to the country's prosperity on a larger scale without being dragged into petty politics. India's role in the world today is far bigger and more prominent. It is in the Indian interest to have happy and prosperous neighbours. By the same token, our leadership in Nepal has to realise that there is no free lunch, there has to be gratitude for support we receive. Our prosperity rests in a much closer alignment with India, not in playing the so-called China card, which has lost its relevance.

As for bilateral Indo-Nepal relations, we have to build strong and separate development strategies with China, which may or may not have anything to do with India and vice versa. Better still, Nepal should become the bridge for development of major infrastructure projects using its natural resources like power and various transit corridors between Chinese capital and technology and the Indian market.

What are the key stumbling blocks to growth in South Asia?

I think the SAARC ( South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) framework is fractured with the provision of consensus for any decision. They cannot decide through majority. And with the distrust between member countries, consensus is not possible. SAARC has to work towards promoting bilateral or trilateral cooperation among member states. This is not viable without India playing the role of a fulcrum as most countries are connected with each other through India.

You have flirted with politics in the past and there are those who feel you should use your talents to help Nepal develop. Is the time right to join politics now?

I have always wanted to help Nepal grow as a prosperous and democratic nation. As an entrepreneur and business leader I have made efforts to that end. When I was a member of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal, I raised a voice in favour of a business environment that would catapult economic growth. But to make substantial change, you need to be in political leadership. I have kept that option open for myself. Politics is a game of impossibles. If events and necessities dictate, a change in leadership could be possible, particularly if the country has to bring economic development to the centrestage.

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