Familiar tune

The election campaigning of the political parties will start and heat up with the promulgation of the Interim Constitution (IC) three days hence. Then the parties and the people are likely to become more or less polarised on two sides — one for the retention of the monarchy and the other for a republican order. Gopal Man Shrestha, vice president of the NC-D and minister for physical planning and works, on Wednesday said in Rupandehi there would be a front for ‘democracy’ and another for ‘republicanism’. Shrestha, like some other senior leaders, seems to be confused about democracy and republicanism as he makes the two out to be the opposites. In the recent past, PM Girija Prasad Koirala had given similar signs of confusion when he had called for giving some political space to the monarchy. Those who harbour this misconception think that the existence of monarchy is necessary to meet the definition of democracy, and they tend to equate republicanism with leftism.

Nothing can be farther from truth. In world practice, mere monarchy or republicanism does not guarantee that a country is a democracy or a dictatorship. North Korea is a dictatorship while India is a democracy, though both are republics. Britain, for example, is a democracy, though a kingdom, whereas a number of other monarchies are dictatorships — Nepal was a dictatorship during the Panchayat period and during the recent active royal rule. So the test of democracy does not lie in whether a country is republican or monarchical, but in whether it has the universally accepted features of democracy or not. Rather, to define democracy in the strict sense of the term, monarchy is more incompatible with democracy as it perpetuates a hereditary system, even though in a constitutional or ceremonial capacity.

It is time political leaders set things right. But if they are deliberately creating the confusion for partisan purposes — for instance, by spreading the wrong message that a person cannot be democratic unless he or she supports the retention of the monarchy — then the people themselves will have to guard against these in the run-up to the CA polls. Every party is free to make its choice. So if the polarisation develops along the lines predicted by Shrestha — the two Congresses and some other smaller non-left parties on one side and the leftists on the other side — there is nothing objectionable about that. After all, it is for the people to decide whose agenda they should accept. But every party must make its stand clear on fundamental issues such as the question of monarchy. Shrestha has also claimed that the King’s declaration to restore the parliament had been based on a ‘secret agreement’ to retain the ‘ceremonial’ monarchy. If anything of the kind had happened, that would be irrelevant and unacceptable when the sovereign people themselves are going to decide the matter once and for all. The parties and their leaders are not above the people. Never.