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First Step to a Republic

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY First Step to a Republic Over the past fortnight, the people of Nepal have wrought a remarkable transformation in their polity. King Gyanendra has had to retreat step by step from a position of even refusing to acknowledge the people

First Step to a RepublicOver the past fortnight, the people of Nepal have wrought a remarkable transformation in their polity. King Gyanendra has had to retreat step by step from a position of even refusing to acknowledge the people’s aspirations. With the restoration of parliament, dissolved in 2002, the first move towards the formation of a republic has been taken. The events are yet to fully unfold, notably in whether or not the seven party alliance (SPA) will take its joint movement with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to a natural conclusion or instead accept the status quo. But there is no mistaking the extent of people’s power; 2006 looks like going much further than 1951 and 1990 when pro-democracy movements in the country had achieved only partial success in that they left the monarchy very much in the saddle. It was surely the two accords between the SPA and the Maoists, drawn up in November 2005 and March 2006, which made possible the new phase of the antimonarchy struggle. This reflected in part the Maoists’ desire to bring about a democratic closure to their movement and the SPA’s recognition that they would not move far without joining hands with the CPN (Maoist). In the face of mass protests that swelled day by day, it was clear that it was just a question of time before Gyanendra would be forced to buckle. The king’s decision to reinstate parliament was meant to forestall the final denouement of a quick end to Nepal’s monarchy. The SPA’s decision to accept the king’s proposal – welcomed by the people on the streets who have yet made clear that their final goal is the establishment of a democratic republic – means that the status quo ante of 2002 has been restored and more ominously the Royal Nepal Army remains under control of the palace. The question now is if the SPA will be seduced by power or will it announce elections to a constituent assembly and pave the way for the dissolution of the monarchy. Anything short of such a course of action will be a betrayal of the people’s struggle. It will also be foolish for an SPA government to work on its own, for that will inevitably open the door to machinations by Gyanendra. There is no question that it was the Maoists who gave the anti-monarchy struggle a new momentum; the political parties had earlier been discredited and their influence largely confined to Kathmandu. While it has been the Maoists who in the last decade have given expression to people’s anger about Nepal’s regional disparities and a caste structure more indissoluble than India’s, they have also been guilty of human rights abuses such as forced conscription and a violent targeting of people who oppose their ideology. However, the Maoists now insist that their desire is the formation of a democratic republic, that they are willing to lay down arms and that they will participate in elections to a constituent assembly, which will decide the country’s political future. Any manipulation at this point to keep the Maoists out will push the country into chaos and unending violence. The task then is for the new government to quickly decide on a road map to a constituent assembly and announce elections. The CPN (Maoist), after expressing its initial unhappiness about the unilateral decision by the SPA to welcome the restoration of parliament, has taken care to make all the right moves. The blockade of Kathmandu has been lifted and a fourmonth ceasefire has been announced. At the time of writing, the CPN (Maoist) had given the SPA time until April 28 to announce the road map to a constituent assembly. International powers with an “interest” in Nepal have been shown up for not correctly reading the people’s mood. The US, whose current professed mission is to promote democracy around the world, took an inordinate amount of time before telling the king that his time was up. China demonstrated that it was more interested in maintaining the status quo than in supporting the people of Nepal. And India, which

kept shifting back and forth, was showing signs of taking the right position before it succeeded in angering the prodemocracy movement by calling on Gyanendra to compromise. The least that these big powers can now do is come out in open support of the Nepalis’ desire to turn their country into a democratic republic. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006

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