Nepal’s Tryst with Democracy

The mood in Nepal was euphoric and the people were ecstatic as this small Himalayan country, that had been under 240 years of the autocratic rule of the Shah dynasty has now proclaimed itself as a democracy. May 28, 2008 will now be a landmark date and would be etched in golden words as the republic day in its national history. This transition marks the end of one of the world’s last Hindu monarchy and the ushering in of a new era of hope for the Nepalese, who have waited for this grand moment.
Having expressed their desire for an alternative political system in the first general elections for the constitution assembly in April this year, they gave the green signal to the Maoist party. All attempts by the special assembly that was elected in April culminated into the dramatic announcement of the country‘s status as a republic by the interim government under prime minister Mr.Girija Prasad Koirala. A wave of excitement now runs through Nepal as all the last traces of the monarchy are being dissolved. People came down to the streets and celebrated this. The portrait of King Gyanendra, the last king, will soon be removed from the currency notes. The royal flag has been pulled down, and the royal palace, Narayanhiti, in Kathmandu would be turned into a museum, making monarchy history.

Democracy for a long time has been the signifier of a changed political milieu, and monarchies are finding it hard to clamp down the forces of democracy for long. This is precisely what happened in case of Nepal too. A pro-democracy movement arose in 1990 which pressurized the then monarch king Birendra to lift the ban on political parties that had been imposed in 1960s by his predecessor king Mahindra. It was accompanied by the experiment to establish a multi party democracy under the system of constitutional monarchy. However, the king still held the right to dissolve the legislature before its term of 5 years ended, resulting in unstable governments. Resistance to the monarch’s powers took the form of Maoist rebellions in 1996 and the royal massacre of 2001 did much to shake the belief in the divine powers of the monarch. Finally, talks between rebel leader Prachanda and Girija Prasad Koirala brought an end to a decade long bitter war, a hope for peace and a resolve to end monarchy. All efforts paid off when the Nepalese went to vote in April this year and an interim government was formed. Several countries have welcomed this change, though a certain suspicion still remains as Maoists have in the past been known for using gross violence as a political weapon.

King Gyanendra, who had ascended the throne in 2001 amidst suspicion was highly unpopular among his subjects. People gathered near the palace demanding him to leave his residence immediately and shouting slogans, even calling him a thief. The monarchy has been alleged to have kept the country backward and its population in abject poverty. The Maoist government has promised a radical economic and political transformation. It is the common man who has been rejoicing the most, as he feels empowered under the new system and has a lot of expectations from the new government. Nevertheless, the most important task now is to address the issues of human rights violation and maintenance of peace and requires concrete efforts on part of the government and international assistance. The transition remains incomplete unless these efforts materialize. The country would have to face the usual problems encountered by democracies mainly while removing societal division of caste, economic disparities and other roadblocks in the formation of an egalitarian state. However, restructuring of the state, formation of national army and instituting reforms remains an immediate concern.

It is not only a significant milestone in its history but it also comes as a relief to those thousands who struggled relentlessly towards realizing the dream of a nation free from feudal suppression.

Rohini Ram Mohan

[Image Source:]