An intensified political war, along with more than a week of curfews in Kathmandu and a number of places, greets the arrival today of the New Year 2063 BS. One can only wish the Nepalis peace, prosperity and well-being. A New Year is often taken to be an occasion for reflection not only on the achievements during the past year but on the failures and mistakes in order to learn lessons and to do better in days to come — with hope, confidence, improved sense, and a new resolution. We Nepalis may have made our gains over the past year, but our failure to keep promises and our lost opportunities and the terrible consequences arising from these weigh so heavy on the scales that whatever good came our way seems to have paled into insignificance. The Constitution, the basic document that should guide the political and legal behaviour of all Nepalis — high or low — remains in tatters. The collective national effort is yet to be visible to overcome the persistent crisis.

The movement for democracy is gathering momentum. The grounds for taking over power on October 4, 2002, and assuming direct royal leadership of the Council of Ministers (on February 1 last year) have fallen off one by one. Most of those who had initially given the benefit of the doubt for the rule by decree have turned against it. Even countries highly important to Nepal and sympathetic to the royal move have pronounced the 14-month-old experiment as a failed enterprise. The past year witnessed the extreme application of Article 127, a fact confirmed by a recent Supreme Court verdict. Restoration of peace and holding of free and fair elections underlying the October 4 step are nowhere near being realised.

The fiasco that was the local elections can hardly be cited as a plus point because they could win neither national nor international recognition and legitimacy. February 1 is a mere continuation of October 4, the difference being only in direct exercise of power rather than by proxy. The other royal promises — good governance, financial discipline and anti-corruption drive — are yet to make the people feel the difference.

At the root of the present confrontation is the refusal of the establishment to recognise democracy in the universally accepted sense of the term. As long as the inevitability of democracy is denied, there cannot be any hope for a return of peace, and the government cannot keep the rising tide of protests from eventually overwhelming it. As John Stewart Mill, perhaps the most celebrated English political theorist of democracy in modern times, says, democracy is based on good ideas which chase out bad, and that democracy is preferable not because of the a priori right of individuals, but because it would raise the quality of life for all. Denial or withholding of democracy can hardly find wide support, whatever the pretexts, as deniers often tend to equate their hold on power with far larger questions such as the country’s sovereignty and existence. Let good sense prevail, heralding a new dawn, with the New Year — of peace, democracy and development.