Perhaps no one had anticipated that King Gyanendraâ€™s far right autocracy would fizzle out so soon. The peopleâ€™s movement has proved that the king, his army and guns were no match against people power. However, it must not be overlooked that if it were not for the crucial role played by the Maoists and active participation of the civil society, the kingâ€™s assertive rule would not have been ended for several years.
In fact, under King Gyanendra, Nepal experienced intensified militarisation, brutal repressions and horrible violence. While mainstream theories of democracy assume that high levels of wealth and education enhance a countryâ€™s chances for democratic rule, the demise of royal rule has had an immense impact on public perceptions â€” it has created new space for public discussions and has terminated the dialogue for partnership with the monarchy. This political change, no doubt, is a great shift.
The monarchy has now been widely considered as a regressive force that has no relevance in real terms to most Nepalis today. Hence, it makes no sense to protect it in any form. In that sense, those who argue for monarchy are fundamentally anti-democratic and anti-people in terms of their ideology and aims. More importantly, as long as we allow the monarchy to continue, not only would traditional challenges to democratic aspirations persist but also much of the progress made during the recent wave of democratisation might prove fragile, tentative and reversible. It is unreasonable to think that any political regime, including monarchy, would last for ever when history has shown otherwise. If a backlash against democratisation is anticipated, then a declared republic would be strong enough to protect public interests from patrimonial proprietorship. The neo-liberal wave has failed because modern societies need a strong state.
Transition to democracy is a complex process in which the expectations of the society are often in contradiction with the government discourse. But it would be a mistake to fail to take the opportunity for creating a truly secure Nepal. The transition from a monarchy-dominated system to the one where democratic forces have control over the governance provides a good opportunity to examine the prevalent attitudes. Democratic exercise can be frustrating when control over public policy is divided between two opposing groups. Although House reinstatement was a step toward democracy, it would be too soon to consider it as a resounding success. There are increasing doubts whether the seven-party alliance (SPA) can deliver lasting peace, much less democracy and justice as many believe the leaders are prone to lie however revolutionary their policy might be.
Any political observer can trace the undercurrents of three political ideologies â€” conservatism, liberalism and socialism. The national-level dialogue between the SPA and rebels on the future dispensation is a welcome development. With regard to Maoist insurgency, it may be recalled that Englandâ€™s civil war in the mid-17th century had, after all, assured stability under parliament and a limited monarchy for centuries. But first there had to be a war and killings, including the decapitation of King Charles I who had claimed absolute power by the divine right. The US had its own civil war two centuries later, which established the rule that a state cannot leave the union alone or in company and abolished slavery in the process. Nepalâ€™s war is no different.
Many things have changed since the demise of autocracy. Yet, we are considering retaining the outdated parliament. One might even suspect a conspiracy of the SPA leaders who are completely obsessed with maintaining their power, and who seem to think that they have the divine right to govern, ignoring the fact that there must be a stable, functioning government, society and culture in which conflicts are settled through negotiations. The people feel that the parties in parliament do not represent their interests. We thus need a fresh, strong and principled leadership to construct a nation on the basis of democratic values. Focusing only on oneâ€™s own interests ignores the political dimension of insurgency and thereby makes it more difficult to negotiate with the Maoists. The politics of self-legislation undermines the autonomy on which all political freedoms depend.
Democracy must be inclusive but it cannot be so unless politically active segments of the population have a voice in the system. It would be foolish for the parliamentarians to put all the bets on a single horse. Even if parliament is necessary, it also implies that a backlash is probable from the monarchy and other belligerent elements. This proposition creates a problem for peace because institutionalising uncertainty may cause chaos. What we now need is an interim statute with a set of rules and a new division of power between the rebels and the levels of government to settle the process of constituent assembly. This process must be speeded up.
Thapa is professor of Politics, TU