Jana Andolan 2006 : How it is different

A Jana Andolan is not an armed insurgency or a violent revolution that seeks to change the existing regimes and political structures. Peaceful movement is the demonstration of the people’s power for bringing about a partial or a full-fledged change. Sometimes it is semi-Andolan that aims at limited reforms to be introduced in the existing system and sometimes its objective is for a more drastic change in order to meet the aspirations of the people. In fact, the Gandhian-type peaceful protests turn into revolutionary ones when the regime tries to use force to silence the protesters provoking them to be determined and aggressive vis-à-vis the repressive methods of the government. The Jana Andolan of 2006 in Nepal was revolutionary in character in terms of principles and mass mobilisation. Although the parties were the initiators, it changed its character with the overwhelming support it received from the people from all walks of life.

Comparatively speaking, the Jan Andolan was unique in contemporary history. Many other movements witnessed in recent years were confined to the capital and some big cities though many of them were successful in toppling the existing regimes. But the Nepali movement has some distinct characteristics, which can be listed below.

Value-based movement: Parties committed to democracy and freedom did not compromise with the royal authoritarianism despite being haunted by the domineering position of the palace. In 1990, the movement leaders lacked self-confidence and apparently became impatient to terminate the movement when their only demand — restoration of multiparty system — was accepted by the then King. Some so-called fundamentals such as sovereignty of people, constitutional monarchy and basic rights were theoretically accepted in the Constitution. However, the recognition of three political forces — the King, NC and the Left front — had in fact contradicted the theory and practice of modern limited government. So when the parties’ image started eroding due to their unsavoury activities and became discredited in the eyes of the people, the King, who was not fully reconciled to his reduced position, also raised his head to strike again. Thus, on February 1, 2005, ambitious monarch Gyanendra embarked on the course of dismantling the established constitutional order taking back all powers into his own hands.

Yet, credit goes to those parties and leaders who refused to kow-tow before the King. On the contrary, political principles were articulated in the process, putting a stiff resistance to the vaulting ambition of the Monarch. The principles of popular and state sovereignty were emphasised on the basis of past experiences, incompatibility of monarchy and democracy was understood by the people, the necessity of empowerment of people was realised, proper distribution of power and resources among various deprived sections has been vindicated in order to bring about a qualitative transformation in the existing feudal structure.

Second, the 12-point understanding reached between the Maoists and the seven-party alliance demonstrated the maturity of the leaders, including the Maoists, for consolidating democracy. Without Maoist cooperation for heightening the peaceful movement, it would not have been broad-based. This understanding shows how the foes of yesterday could turn into friends and how a peaceful movement could be more effective than violent methods, though both have been used by revolutionary leaders on the basis of their own understanding of the situation.

Third, the role of civil society and professionals and other non-party actors was no less significant in making the movement decisive. It was an inclusive movement in view of representation of almost all sections of society. Similarly, the Nepalis all over the world too made democracy a common agenda.

Lastly, it has been proved that the media in Nepal has established itself as one of the powerful weapons for safeguarding democracy as well as for ensuring accountability and transparency. Defiance of official order risking reprisal was common. It also sho-wed that the watchful eye of international human rights groups, the UN and the royal regime’s own lack of confidence helped restrain the government from being brutally oppressive. The solidarity displayed by the opposition media continued to stoke the movement. International media also censured King Gyanendra for his attempt to establish absolute monarchy on the pretext of peace and multiparty democracy.

The stir inspired the people from the very beginning. Its true representative character could be seen when it encouraged even the ordinary villagers and suppressed sections of society. The women, ethnic groups, Dalits, labourers, peasants, professionals and others joined in the movement making it a movement of the people at large. It has demonstrated that democracy now cannot be snatched away easily if the people continue to be on the guard.

Prof Baral is executive chairman, NCCS