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Nepal: Polls Cannot Provide Enduring Solution

Polls Cannot Provide Enduring Solution


By Ramesh Sharma

King Gyanendra is still adamant. He is not likely to yield. Political parties have failed to make him veer from his ‘regressive roadmap’. Even their 12-point understanding with Maoists has failed to cut the ice. Instead, it has proved to be an albatross around the neck of democratic forces. Overweening as he appears, the Nepalese monarch has embarked on a tour of Eastern Nepal. He is trying to establish direct contact with the people. He wants to send the signal that he is not only a monarch but also a leader of 28 million Nepalese.

King Gyanendra usurped power last February by sacking the government of Sher Bahadur Deuba, who has now been imprisoned on charges of corruption. There are very few in Nepal to shed tears at the plight of so-called political leaders like Deuba who steered the country towards complete chaos and penury during the 12 years of multi-party dispensation. Taking cue from what happened in the former Soviet Union and East European countries, Nepal entered, for the second time, into a democratic era following a mass movement in 1990.

Former King Birendra, predecessor of the present monarch, had no choice but to give in to popular pressure coupled with India’s attempt at asphyxiation. A historic compromise was reached between the three forces – monarchy, Nepali Congress and United Left Front – that seemed dominant in national politics. In due course of time, a new constitution based on multi-party parliamentary democracy and Constitutional monarchy was promulgated accordingly, some major hitches notwithstanding. All the forces concerned expressed their commitment to the new constitution.

Twelve years into multi-party parliamentary democracy, Nepal experienced myriad of problems and complexities. Entire democratic structure was engulfed by massive corruption and blatant misuse of authority on the part of political leaders who held the rein of power. Self aggrandizement seemed to be the only motivating factor behind the pursuit of power. Democratic ideals were completely pulverized. So were democratic institutions. Expediency was gloriously upheld at the cost of principles. It used not to be an adventitious exception, but the rule adored by politicos of all stripes.

King Birendra cautiously played the role of a passive spectator. Political leaders, as were unabashedly allowed with impunity to embark on an unfettered looting spree, were never tired of heaping praise on the mute king purportedly for confining himself within the parameter of ‘constitutional monarchy’. The king or some forces in the palace might have their own design behind such eerie connivance. That the political leaders who were, at some point of time, widely respected because of their unyielding struggle for democracy, could not fathom the grave consequences that might finally accrue from such excesses, was the most regrettable aspect of this whole episode.

Action is axiomatically followed by reaction. One need not delve into Newton’s theory in order to understand this simple truth of politics. The way the hard-won multi-party democratic order was grotesquely mangled by none other than its own progenitors facilitated the rise of so-called ‘Peoples’ War’- a squalid admixture of conspiracy and violence – that aims at the ultimate destruction of entire parliamentary democratic structure. Maoism profoundly discredited in its own country of origin can hardly carve out a niche in the Nepalese psyche, much less be accepted as a system of governance in a kingdom preponderantly permeated by time honored Hindu philosophy and tradition.

There is no denying that Nepal needs to undergo radical transformation in order to meet the challenges of changed realities. What is important in this context is the need for a novel paradigm that wields the capacity of internalizing universal principles of democracy, human rights, civil society and good governance without being prejudiced against the socio-cultural ethos that has always promoted peace, harmony and stability in the Nepalese society. It can neither be achieved through the ‘royal authoritarianism’ that claims to have drawn its legitimacy from glorious Hindu tradition accompanied by some positive contributions of the institution of monarchy in the past nor can it be materialized on the basis of nihilistic interpretation of dialectical materialism and class struggle.

Even the political parties could not prove their mettle, either. But they should not be ignored and sidelined. Whether the bona fides of leaders representing different political parties are acknowledged by the public is a different matter. Political parties as such are the representative of popular voice and aspirations. Institutional development of democracy always demands due respect towards them. But the incumbent royal government does not seem prepared to countenance this reality. The way the noted hardliners have been prominently inducted into the cabinet gives one the impression that the royal regime is stubbornly against co-opting political organizations advocating the restoration of full-fledged democratic order.

The protracted impasse characterizing the Nepalese politics is seen to have led to the emergence of untoward polarization. The shaking of hands in the recent past between the seven party oppositional alliance and Maoists, and that too in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a case in point. Naturally, it has raised a fundamental question: Is it that the Maoists have exhibited their preparedness to accept democratic forces’ agenda or vice versa? A perusal of the 12-point understanding reveals that democratic forces have capitulated to the brutal force of an outfit that seems inured to basking in anachronistic orthodoxy. The approval, in one way or another, of violence against innocent people and destruction of development infrastructure can never strengthen the cause of democracy. It might also be construed as democratic forces nibbling the bait extended by some devious nexus that harbors the common interest when it comes to demolishing democratic principles and ideals.

The government is determined to conduct impending municipal polls. Political parties are exhorting people not to participate in this exercise. Ordinary populace is caught in this preposterous tug of war. In the meantime, Maoists have called off their unilateral ceasefire. No doubt, the conducting of municipal polls represents nothing more than a placebo that can hardly provide an enduring solution to Nepal’s ailing democracy. People are completely fed up both with the royal hubris as also lack of perspicacity on the part of political leaders. (01/03/06)

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(Sharma is President of Jayatu Sanskritam Inc., a non-profit organization registered with the state government of Massachusetts, US)

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