New Republic of Nepal Onus on the politicians

Republican Nepal will pass through a turbulent phase that may not contribute to democratic

stability.

Nepal enters into a new phase of its historical development today (May 28, 2008). The much awaited formalisation of republican agenda would end the 240-year old monarchical rule and the concept and practice of state and popular sovereignty would be enforced without any preconditions. The drafting of a new democratic constitution by the Constituent Assembly and the end of monarchy will put an end to the leftovers of history. The dramatic turn of events that led to such a stage provides lots of messages. The background against which such developments are taking place testify that any ruler who fails to read his popular barometer and continues to be stubborn would meet King Gyanendra’s fate. Filled with mysteries, dramas replete with perfidy, treachery, deceit and sexual extravaganza, monarchy is history. If the developments that have taken place over the 240 years are brought to light, it would be one of the most exciting narratives of the contemporary world.

The rise and fall of monarchies have certain common features, despite being country-specific and contextual. Monarchies are by nature regressive in outlook and orientation. Even when a monarch tries to change it, the flatterers and courtiers do not allow the King to be a commoner King. King Birendra, soon after his accession, once addressed queen Aiswarya as “my wife” to the annoyance of some courtiers including senior ministers. The young king also used “timi”, a pejorative word for senior leaders like B P Koirala, T P Acharya and Ganesh Man Singh. Monarchy and democracy could not go together in Nepal due to some of these factors. First, political leaders were novices who failed to understand the ethos of palace political culture. Nor could they read the minds of Shah Kings whose primary mission was to take back power on any pretext. King Tribhuvan, who was declared the Father of the Nation (Rashtrapita) after he joined the anti-Rana movement himself turned out to be an autocrat in a couple of years. And the parties’ leaders provided ladder to the ambitious monarchs by undermining the very foundation of democracy.

Second, regime change did not prove conducive for institutionalisation of democratic processes. Changes were cosmetic and merely perpetuated old norms and practices. Finally, the failure of politicians to project a good image drove the army to be close to the King, who proved to be a better rider of power than the politicians. Most army generals, both retired and incumbents, still think that politicians are of inferior breed whose governability is questionable. Nevertheless, Nepali politics has undergone a sea change after the Jana Andolan II. How its fundamental gains will be consolidated is of course a different matter. The new republican Nepal would have to pass through yet another turbulent phase which may not necessarily be positive for democratic stability if the political forces fail to abide by the spirit of the movement. Moreover, if the parties’ leaders once again revert to the old game of numbers (simple and two-third majority) with the intent of dismantling a particular party in government, regressive forces would raise their heads to spoil the gains of the movement. The latest manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres displayed by the key political players have made people despondent over the prospects of republican order.

Yet, there’s no denying that a new republic will be born and it can be safely said that despite the ambivalent positions taken by some politicians in the past, events and mood of the people have dictated them to be steady in the course of implementation of republican agenda. Those who advance the idea of cultural or ceremonial monarchy do not have any rationale for retaining this institution. What are the supporting factors for monarchy? Is it the symbol of national unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty? Does it now identify with the larger interest of the people? Does it garner wide international support for its continuation? Does the Nepal Army still show its unflinching loyalty to it?

Since all constituencies of monarchy, mainly the people, Hindu religion and the Army, would no longer work, its bastions, its support bases would be dismantled in the New Nepal. Moreover, any institution like an individual outlives its utility if it fails to renew itself. Institutions are outdated because of their failure to be flexible, performance-oriented and dynamic. Monarchs in Nepal have invariably usurped power for their own selfish ends thus inviting the demise of the institution itself.

The advent of republic alone does not make us confident of its bright future. Political parties’ leaders could have settled all their outstanding issues much before so that they could all make the republic day a grand success. Any success or failure of new Nepal would depend on cooperation and mutual understanding among key political players. If they repeat the past mistakes, Nepal may again slip into a political abyss.

Prof Baral is executive director, NCCS