Monarchy Bites the Dust

Interim Constitution, interim head of state and an interim Government. Political feelings run high in Nepal as the impoverished Himalayan nation witnesses a number of historical firsts (democratic elections, a sovereign democratic republic, a federal structure and end of its 240-year-old monarchy.)

Nepal experienced a seismic shift after April 10, 2008 Constituent Assembly elections by giving the former guerrillas – the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – a decisive mandate, indicating that the time is finally up for the world’s only Hindu king, Gyanendra Shah. The Maoists won 220 seats in the ballot for the 601-member assembly, the Nepali Congress took 110 seats, the CPN (Unified Marxist Leninist) secured 103 seats and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum representing the Terai region trailed behind with 42 seats.

For a party that waged a “people’s war” from 1996-2006 and was dubbed as a group of terrorists by the Nepali Government just two years ago, this is a big achievement. Quite unsurprisingly, success to the ex-guerrillas comes at a high price. The multi-party misadventure dampens the frisk of a militia dream. The end of the decade-long Maoist insurgency has diffused an intense political miasma in Nepal. A war of diplomatic reflexes is unleashed in the new-born democracy. As Puspakamal Dahal (“Prachanda” – the fierce one) waits to be sworn in as the Prime Minister, the ex-guerrillas and mainstream parties of Nepal remain bitterly at odds with each other and hence the government formation is bogged down. The Maoists have scant respect for democracy, the unrelenting blame game for impasse continues fueled by the twin factors of “after-fact-realization” and “gutter-fights”. Firstly, the after-fact-realization on federalism.

Federal consciousness dawned on the veteran politicians after the first amendment of the Interim Constitution that guaranteed a Federal Structure. As introspection – they questioned whether federalism was good for Nepal. So, the problem here is that we have already demolished the house that we lived in and are now arguing that we do not need a new house at all because we are so diverse in our opinions that we cannot settle for one plan. That is the political elite of Nepal! Secondly, the ‘gutter-fight’ over Presidency. It is has come to notice through various sources that Nepal’s Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala has exhibited his utter greed to be elevated to the rank of the first President of the Republic. Gyanendra Shah, the dour-faced monarch who had vaulted to the throne after the 2001 massacre of his brother Birendra Shah and his royal lineage by a drunken crown prince who later turned the gun on himself, always bore the blot of the conspiracy theory. The familiar scent of the throne has made the dethroned king more republican than the normal republicans, more Christian than the Pope. His positive assurances ventilate that he has reconciled with his “fate” and would amicably “mend” his “incorrect ways” if the Maoists grant him a chance to exercise his “political desires”. The ousted king’s sagacity clashes with Nepali congress and CPN (UML)’s scathing attack over Prachanda’s move to propose Madeshi leader Ramaraja Prasad Singh’s name for Presidency. The Maoist Government-to-be staggers under much-deserved ruthless whips of criticism that they are trying to prop up a weak and hand-picked person to exploit the rubber-stamp post. The political soup thus thickens. These conditions underscore the point that the ex-guerrillas will take time to respect the norms of democratization. Until then, the world can snug itself for some heavy duty “pollywood”- the frequent theatrical feats of politics.

With bickering politicians oblivious to the understanding of a ‘peaceful restructuring’, many key problems go unidentified. One of which is the pending decision of the Maoists to give back land and property seized during the conflict; and also the issue of 3,428 Maoist weapons under UN supervision. The Maoist volunteer army of some 23,000, and the Nepalese army – 2 warring sects in the old days of ‘revolution’ – would have to be hammered into one amour in the present day of ‘revolution by intimidation’. The Young Communist League, created by the Maoists will have to be disciplined towards rural development – constructing villages that they once demolished. I can clearly see the Maoists cursing themselves for turning into a different leaf altogether!

As the Republican sentiments lament in its neighborhood, Indian Naxalites – the Left extremists – celebrate. The Naxalite realization that the way to secure power is to wage unbridled violence until the established order gives in to a political and constitutional restructuring is disturbing news. The “reactionary ruling class” must, therefore, be wary of Nepal’s ‘commitment to abolish feudal monarchy’. The Indo-Nepal equation is deeper than between any two European Union members. Undoubtedly, the Maoist victory presents India with new potential challenges. The onus must be placed on the Maoists to show through actions that their Government deserves sustained Indian aid, or else these revolutionaries will take Indian aid and also damn India.

Power politics is bringing about drastic, though bumpy, metamorphosis in Nepal. The country has experienced a massive upheaval in too short a time. For those who think the “agreement of disagreement” was a bloodless coup – 20,000 people were killed in the Maoists “people’s-war”. For those who think the peace making process is complete – US still puts Maoists on its list of international terrorists. It is revolution sans revolution in the Himalayan cradle. Meanwhile, some Maoists hang on to their guns until the dust settles down.

Bhavna Tripathy

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