Nepal Running Out of Time

The map above shows the ethno-geographic mix of Nepal. The Maoists want an administrative restructuring of the country on ethnic lines whereas the ruling Nepali Congress coalition wants a geographically identified Nepal. The transition from the recent to proposed constitutional make up of the country now hangs in the balancec

by Dhruba Adhikary


nepalflagNepal’s transition from a Hindu monarchy to a secular republic is not going smoothly, and not just over the fast-approaching May 28 deadline for the nation’s new constitution.

Nepal’s three major parties are at loggerheads in the special assembly formed to draft the constitution over the structure of a proposed federal system. The opposition Maoists insist that federal states be created on an ethnic basis, while the ruling Nepali Congress party and its coalition partner believe the states should be formed on a geographic basis.

The Constituent Assembly was formed after a 2008 election when members voted overwhelmingly to abolish the monarchy and restructure the country into autonomous states. The powers of the last king , Gyanendra, had been steadily curtailed since a disastrous period of his rule ended in April 2006 amid a popular revolt.

In the Constituent Assembly the opposition Maoists, who form the largest block with 40% of the seats, favor an executive presidency, while the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist are floating a parliamentary system.

At the same time, public opposition to the idea of federalism is growing, as seen in the successful anti-federalism campaign being carried out by the National People’s Front (Rashtriya Janamorcha), a small left-leaning party.

“Federalism is a recipe for Nepal to disintegrate, like the former Yugoslavia,” said Chitra Bahadur KC, the party leader. In his view, Nepal’s marginalized peoples would be better served through greater decentralization. A successful general strike his party organized in January is forcing the assembly to listen to his concerns.

[Left: Former king Gyanendra of Nepal, a small yet growing number of Nepalese now wish a return of the monarchy. RPP-Nepal which has only four members in the national assembly, led a protest campaign which attracted a wide following. Even the powerful Maoists were forced to cancel an important meeting due to the chaos and party’s large rallies managed to block the entrance to Simha Durbar, the seat of central government.]

Another small party, the royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-Nepal), is calling for a national referendum on federalism, as well as on secularism and a restoration of the monarchy. It last week launched a general strike that brought Kathmandu Valley, which encompasses the capital and two other districts, to a standstill.

RPP-Nepal has only four members in the national assembly, but its protest campaign has attracted a wide following. Even the powerful Maoists were forced to cancel an important meeting due to the chaos and the RPP-Nepal’s large rallies managed to block the entrance to Simha Durbar, the seat of central government.

The party also wants a referendum to address Nepal’s status as the world’s only remaining Hindu state, which was abolished in 2008 when Nepal became a republic. More than 80% of the population is from the Hindu faith, also known as Sanaatan Dharma (the eternal law).

Hinduism, the third-largest religion after Christianity and Islam, is known for its tolerance towards other faiths. Nepal, with a sizeable Muslim population, does not possess the type of religious rivalries seen in India.

This, however, is undergoing a subtle change. There are growing feelings that too much tolerance could impact on Nepal’s Hindu way of life, especially if there is a lack of reciprocity from other faiths. The concern has grown since the proselytizing activities of Western groups that had entered Nepal in the garb of non-governmental organizations were exposed.

The Hindu backlash against Nepal becoming a secular state has grown since 2006 when the monarchy first fell and the state was established, but the leaders of some prominent political parties believe the recent popular movements may also be a power play by right-wing elements. And they are also jittery about a possible revival of the monarchy.

Kamal Thapa, who heads RPP-Nepal, denies that his party is working to restore the monarchy’s absolute rule. “All our party believes in is the restoration of a ceremonial institution that provides a symbol of unity for a country that is known for its ethnic diversity,” Thapa told Asia Times Online.

[Right: Kamal Thapa,the current president of Nepal’s only royalist party, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party. He served as Home Minister during King Gyanendra‘sdirect rule in 2006, until the king was forced to handover power to Gerija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress Party and his allies with CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist.
Thapa and his party are on a signature campaign, asking for a referendum to decide the fate of monarchy.
The RPP president claims that no political party in Nepal possesses the guts to safeguard Nepali Nationality. “Now the onus lay only with the institution of monarchy to safeguard Nepali sovereignty and National Unity”, says Thapa.
 He has further urged upon the government to re-investigate the royal massacre and dig out the truths.
“Those blaming former King Gyanendra for the massacre are now holding power in the government. I challenge them to track down the guilty.”]

Thapa’s ideas appeal to many, as the 2006 declaration that made Nepal a secular nation was made without consulting the people. The May 18 declaration was made in a parliament that had been restored through royal proclamation, and the person who made it, Girija Prasad Koirala, was sworn in as prime minister by Gyanendra himself.

That declaration was illegitimate and should have been challenged there and then, according to Bishwanath Upadhayaya, a former chief justice and the head of the panel that drafted the 1990 constitution. If the changes were the outcome of a mass movement or a revolution, it should have been documented as such, he maintains.

Instead, sweeping changes were abruptly announced by Koirala on the grounds of bringing the Maoist insurgency (1996-2006) to an end and bringing the rebels into mainstream politics at all costs.

Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (popularly known as Prachanda) has now become one of two important figures who concede that the secularization of Nepal was a mistake. The other person is none other than the incumbent President Ram Baran Yadav.

Yadav made this clear to a controversial Indian holy man, Chandraswami, when he was on a pilgrimage to Nepal. Former prime minister Koirala purportedly evaded the question. Unlike rulers in Delhi, media reports indicate that India’s Hindus want the religious identity of neighboring Nepal to remain unchanged. For them, too, this is an emotional issue.

If Nepal’s secularization was a mistake, this could be rectified when Nepal receives its new constitution. There is no need for a simultaneous restoration of the monarchy, which ceased being the custodian of the nation’s Hindus after the notorious palace massacre of 2001. Nepal could now learn to stand as a Hindu republic, not a kingdom.

Dhruba Adhikary is a Kathmandu-based journalist.

Related Posts:

1. Fighting traitors in Nepal 2. The real face of Nepal premiers – Past & Present
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