A New Nepal Changing of the guard
It remains to be seen whether the Maoists will be able to shape a new Nepal by following the Gramscian doctrine of ‘sociopolitical compromise’ to set up a strong and highly centralised regime. The ‘people’s war’ may have brought the Maoists to power and dethroned Gyanendra.
But, the nation would benefit if the future governance for peaceful transition was handled according to accepted norms and the constitution-making process conformed to the ideals of democratic egalitarianism reflecting social and cultural diversities and notions of ‘denizenship’ and multicultural citizenship for the people’s endowment, empowerment and political identity. While solution to Nepal’s chronic problems requires political accommodation, the structure and functioning of Maoists still look akin to Sendero Luminoso with a curious mix of peasants’ rural moorings, revolutionaries’ ideologies, guerillas’ tactics, and subsequent class struggles witnessed in Peru.
Many believe that a republican state is strong enough to protect public patrimony from private capture. However, negotiated consent is required in the exercise of state power to the extent that political relations between the state and its citizens feature broad, equal, protected, and mutually binding agreements. The legitimisation of political mechanism is a back-and-forth process handled by specific institutional arrangements with twists and turns. Sustained democracy requires merit, fair governance, democratic doctrine, social customs, and institutional mechanism energised with adequate pluralism, constitutionalism, and intellectual guidance. The transition to democracy is a complex but reversible process in which governmental discourse is often in contradiction to people’s expectations. Every crisis heralds opportunities and hurdles. A smooth transition toward proper democracy requires that political space is not dominated by expressions of antagonism.
What Maoists do and how they continue adjust themselves into the society are matters of enduring concern, although the abolition of monarchy — the beneficiary of fissiparous politics upon which the coercive power of the state survived for centuries without accountability — was a magnificent achievement. The ‘divinity’ of monarchy was rooted in public mind as something indispensable, sacred, and god-given. He had unquestionable access to all available resources and his stooges in power often employed violence and exclusion to safeguard their interests. The abolition of monarchy is in essence a step toward resolution of vital issues.
Most of the new regimes try to put political rights on hold in the name of social or economic imperatives. The implications are obvious, at least in principle. For example, the collective aspirations of the citizens cannot bring about transformation of social life without the active assistance of government. A critical factor in explaining monarchy’s fall was a shift in the attitude of India. Although monarchy was an integral part of Nepali politics for centuries, its wings were clipped and claws pared when it surrendered its authority to the SPA in April 2006. Similarly, it has been well known that GP Koirala was responsible for institutionalised corruption in the country. Still, he has become sort of indispensable.
It is doubtful whether the Maoists will actually accommodate many of the essential institutional
requirements to promote democratic values, help develop democratic trusteeship to extend participatory competence, and devise novel mechanisms to translate the concept into political reality. But the dilemma is that despite Maoists’ dazzling image and choreographed events, a dichotomy exists between socialism and liberalism in interpreting constitutional rights and tools of democratic governance. Democracy entails struggles among various forces and thrives as a result. But, it cannot survive unless those who matter inculcate correct perception of the rights, i.e. freedom, liberty, justice, equality, and tranquillity. All expect that CA will shape a new Nepal, but the continued tactics of political players to capture state power and fear of ‘neo-sultanism’ — where those in power employ violence and exclusion without being sensitive to the needs of others — have led to scepticism too.
The rural areas-based insurgency had grown in difficult political and socio-economic circumstances endowed with clientelist proto-parties and self-serving politics. However, democratic society may require that its members, when necessary, be willing and able to move from a critical review of their own projects and values to seek accommodation with others. The most fundamental challenge is how a federal democratic republic achieves a viable form of constitutional government and wipes away all remnants of feudalism. The transition to democracy has followed a unique trajectory and its success now depends upon perseverance, accommodation, and togetherness.
Thapa is professor of Politics, TU