Birth Pangs of Democracy in Nepal
Baburam Bhattarai's explanation of what is happening in Nepal
After the declaration of a state of emergency and imposition of royal military dictatorship in Nepal on November 26, there has been wide speculation and certain apprehension amongst the international community about the real happenings inside the country. Since a strict press censorship is imposed and the general public is subjected to one-sided royal military propaganda, the outside world is forced to buy the deliberately floated theory that the fight there is between 'democracy' and 'terrorism'. After September 11 it has been convenient for every tin-pot dictator to brand any opposition or rebellion against him as 'terrorism', and the fratricidal and regicidal Gyanendra Shah has naturally sought to cash in on that global revulsion against terrorism. However, the dialectics of universality and particularity ought to be correctly grasped and every particularity has to be properly discerned so as not to err in policy matters. It is, therefore, submitted here that the real fight currently in Nepal is not between 'democracy' and 'terrorism', but between completion of the democratic revolution and the restoration of monarchical autocracy.
The 1990 political change in Nepal ushered in a multi-party parliamentary system, but the effective political power remained in the hands of the traditional feudal monarchy. Not only did the King remain above the law with all traditional royal economic, social and cultural privileges intact, but the royal army was allowed to owe its continued allegiance to the monarchy. This was ensured through an ambiguously worded constitution drafted by a committee nominated by the king and promulgated by him using his 'traditional authority', rather than by an elected constituent assembly. This seemingly innocuous procedural lapse then proved such a costly political blunder later on (though the revolutionary Left, the precursor of the present CPN (Maoist) had warned of it at the time) that the parliament and the political parties were reduced to mere court jesters dancing to the tunes of the almighty monarchy. As a result no basic structural change in the semi-feudal and semi-colonial socio-economic formation was brought about in the ensuing years, and the country continued to reel under abject poverty, inequality, dependency and all-round underdevelopment. Acute class exploitation was accompanied by yet more onerous national, regional, gender and caste oppression of the overwhelming majority of the population.
It was against this background that the historic People's War (PW) for a New Democratic Revolution (NDR) was initiated under the leadership of CPN (Maoist) in 1996. Surpassing all expectations the PW made rapid strides and within five years almost all of the countryside came under the control of the revolutionary forces. In addition to the vast majority of poor peasants, the main support base of the NDR constitutes women, dalits and people of oppressed nationalities and regions, including Madhesis of the Terai region bordering India. Also a large section of the urban and rural middle strata owing traditional allegiance to the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) and the main parliamentary opposition CPN (UML) have rebelled against their parent parties for their meek surrender before the feudal monarchy and joined the NDR.
Meanwhile contradictions within the ruling classes got sharpened as regards to the strategy to be pursued against the ever rising PW. King Birendra, with a relatively liberal persuasion, was seen to be too weak and indecisive to take on the revolutionary forces. Hence in a shrewd and swift military coup d'etat on June 1, 2001, the entire family of King Birendra was wiped out and a more crooked Gyanendra and his criminally inclined son Paras were put on the throne. It may be noted here that Paras Shah has been involved in a number of murder cases and intensely hated by the people. As the masses in general refused to accept Gyanendra and Paras as the new 'King' and 'Crown price', the immediate plan to deploy the royal army against the revolutionary forces was shelved for some time and a drama of negotiation with the CPN (Maoist) was sought to be staged under a new Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba. Keeping in mind the public sentiment for a negotiated political solution to the problem, our Party responded positively and three rounds of negotiation were held from August 30 to November 13. But all in vain.
Why did the talks fail? And who is primarily responsible for that? A deliberate impression is sought to be created that we walked out of the talks and they had to deploy the royal army as the last resort. Let the facts speak for themselves. Throughout the talks it was clear that Deuba was just a helpless dummy, while the actual player behind the scene was Gyanendra. (Though Girija Koirala [the previous Prime Minister] had his own agenda to sabotage the talks so that he could upstage Deuba in the Prime Ministerial chair).
Considering the delicate balance of power among the three contending forces, viz. revolutionary, parliamentary and monarchical forces, we did not press for our NDR agenda but sought to make common cause with the parliamentary forces to consummate the 'old democracy' first by institutionalizing the republic. Accordingly we proposed three immediate agenda items: an interim government, a new constitution and the republic. When Gyanendra coerced Deuba to reject out of hand the question of a republic, we proposed the convening of an elected constituent assembly to decide on the question of the abolition of the monarchy and institutionalization of the republic. Naturally Gyanendra sabotaged this move, too, and none of the parliamentary parties including the NC and the UML [the rightwing Communist party, the main parliamentary opposition] dared to come out in favor of a constituent assembly. Meanwhile Gyanendra had mobilized the royal army under his command throughout the country and prepared for a final showdown with the revolutionary forces. This is the immediate precedence of the final breakdown of talks, the armed clashes of November 23, and the imposition of Gyanendra's military dictatorship on November 26.
Subsequent events have proved that the real power of the old state has now been completely usurped by the Gyanendra clique and the biggest losers have been the meek parliamentary forces hanging between the crossfire of revolution and counter-revolution. Otherwise what was the need to declare a state of emergency and suspend all fundamental democratic and political rights of the people? It was a subtle political coup d'etat staged by Gyanendra using the gullible Deuba (who is now connected to the royalty through marriage to a Rana!). And it is a direct corollary to the military coup d'etat (i.e. palace massacre) of last June. It has also been proved, as poignantly highlighted by the late B.P.Koirala in his recently published Atma-britanta (or, self-portrait), that unless the traditional royal army is replaced with a modern people's army democracy in Nepal can never be safe. The feudal reactionary nature of the royal army and its complete hegemonization by the ruling Shah-Rana families may be gauged from the fact that of the thirty commander-in-chiefs since 1835, twenty-six belonged to the Shah-Ranas and four to their close courtiers, Thapa-Basnets. Hence there should be no doubt, at least to the progressive and modern-minded, that the current fight in Nepal is precisely for ending this age-old feudal tyranny and to usher in a real democracy suited to the 21st century.
And last, but not least, the role of our two immediate neighbors, India and China, is going to be crucial in this epic fight. Traditionally both these powers have sought to appease the monarchy as a symbol of 'peace and stability'. But the ground reality has undergone a radical change with the all-round democratization process sweeping the vast countryside during the last six years of PW and virtual collapse of the traditional institution of monarchy after the palace massacre of last June. The concept of 'peace and stability' should be dynamic, not static. Only the voluntary and unified will of the majority of the people can ensure genuine peace and stability. Let the international community, and particularly our neighbors, India and China, understand the current reality as the birth pangs of democracy in Nepal and let the Nepalese people decide their own future.
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