Friday, May 30, 2008

The Republic of Nepal

The Republic of Nepal

The coup de grace was delivered by the Constituent Assembly in minutes but the end of Nepal’s monarchy was long years in the making. Decrepit, authoritarian and ineffective, the realm of Gyanendra, the last monarch of Nepal, was a far cry from the kingdom established by Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1768. Nepal at the time was a frontrunner in the nation-building process in South Asia. The country was unified but eventually lost its way in the intrigue and corruption that seems the lot of all monarchies.

The 1846 Kot Parwa — a massacre that anticipated the royal parricide enacted by Dipendra more than a century and a half later — led to the rise of the tyrannical Ranas. The Shahs wrested power back in 1951 but now had to contend with a new claimant to power: the people. This was something King Tribhuvan and his successors, Mahendra and Birendra, could never fully reconcile themselves to. By the time Gyanendra inherited the throne in 2001, the country was at war with itself.

Had he been wise, he would have realised that the Maoist insurgency was the product of Nepal’s feudal economy and social structure and that only an inclusive, democratic revolution could save the country from bloodshed. Wisdom, alas, was not his strong point. The monarchy’s fate was already settled but his February 2005 putsch hastened its demise by opening a path for the Maoists to join hands with the NC and the UML.

By getting rid of its monarchy in a transparent, democratic and dignified manner, Nepal has shown that revolutions, no matter how historic or momentous, need not always be bloody. But the people of Nepal voted for much more than an end to the monarchy and this is where the real challenge for the Maoists and their allies lies.

The popular mandate is for a coalition government that can oversee the writing of a constitution that enshrines the desires and aspirations of the country’s peoples for an inclusive republic in which the economic, political, and social rights of all are guaranteed. While the parties are entitled to bargain hard over the conditions under which they agree to join the new Maoist-led government, this fundamental truth must not be lost sight of. Secondly, the end of the monarchy does not by itself bring the country’s peace process to an end.

The integration of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army with the Nepal Army and the creation of a democratic and accountable military culture are equally important tasks that need to be fulfilled. The parties did well to sink their differences in order to consummate the establishment of the republic. Civilised cohabitation now is what Nepal needs.

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