Oli’s crimeNobody is above the law in contemporary Nepal. Nobody ought to be.
Prime Minister KP Oli, like any dictator or autocrat before him, by dissolving the Parliament unconstitutionally has brought Nepali politics back to square one. Whatever his pretext to do so—the obstruction from his fellow party leaders in the working of his almost two-thirds majority government—it is his quest for perpetual state power, his megalomania to consider himself above his party, the two-thirds majority Parliament and the constitution that are to blame. He may or may not have an inkling of his own baser motives, but his action to dissolve Parliament two years before its term against the letter and the spirit of the constitution will have far-reaching but unpredictable consequences. And his action itself can be said to be worse than other such heinous attempts to take over power in Nepal’s history, such as Jung Bahadur’s Kot Parba, Mahendra’s coup in 1959 and Gyanendra’s takeover in 2005.
To be sure, the Kot Massacre was violent; it finished off Jung Bahadur’s rival courtier clans. But it occurred at a period of time when the rule of law was non-existent. Regarding state affairs, might was right. King Prithvi Narayan Shah himself had conquered the Kathmandu Valley less than 80 years before by a combination of force and trickery. When Mahendra staged his coup and imposed his 30-year-long Panchayat system, he had dissolved a Parliament whose majority party—Nepali Congress—had a two-thirds majority. But the king had used the emergency powers given to him in the constitution to do so. It was undemocratic and autocratic, to be sure, but he had followed the constitution to destroy it. Besides, the sovereignty of the country of Nepal lay in the crown. Gyanendra’s takeover in 2005 came at the end of 15 years of the multiparty system in the open era. Nonetheless, it, too, was done following the 1990 constitution that had emergency powers in the constitution vested in the king. And he legally used it to dissolve Parliament.
Right since 1950, when the Rana oligarchy ended after the Congress led by BP Koirala and king Tribhuvan rose against it, the people of Nepal had demanded a Constituent Assembly in order to frame a constitution of the country. Tribhuvan hemmed and hawed; his son Mahendra, when his turn came, refused. Instead, he had the constitution made as he wished by inviting constitutional experts of his choice. Congress and BP went along with it. The constitution given by the king was destroyed by the king two years later, letting loose 30 years of Panchayat autocracy on the Nepali people. The first people’s movement (Jana Andolan) of 1990 put paid to the Panchayat system, but the constitution was framed by a constitution framing committee appointed by the king. Its members travelled far and wide both inside and outside the country. But the constitution they made had the boot marks of half a dozen generals who threatened the committee members and succeeded in making the king not only the supreme commander of the army but also possess emergency powers. Gyanendra in 2005 used those powers to dissolve Parliament and ultimately undid himself and his dynasty.
The people’s choice
The present constitution, on the other hand, is different. Promulgated in 2015 by the second Constituent Assembly, after the first elected in 2008 failed to do so, the Constitution of Nepal has the blood of the 17,000 Nepalis who lost their lives during the Maoist insurgency (1996-2006), the dozens of Madhesis who were shot and killed during the protests for their equal rights, and the sweat and tears of the Nepalis who had suffered imprisonment, exile, torture, countless beatings, not to speak of their toils in the farms and fields, on it. A charter made by a representative assembly was their dream come true.
Nepal’s progressive parties, using the pretext of the 2015 earthquake, transformed into regressive forces and signed the 16-point agreement to fast-track the present constitution. Some Madhesis continue in their social media profile to display the black flag that was used to protest its rushed enactment. Nonetheless, even though one couldn’t agree with claims that the constitution was inclusive and the ‘world’s best’, it was after all a people’s constitution made by the people’s Constituent Assembly. Its numerous flaws stood to be corrected through amendments, and it had guarantees of a free press among other fundamental freedoms.
We can understand the heinousness of Oli’s unconstitutional and untimely dissolution of the present Parliament better when we remember Nepal’s past—of the forcible denial of the people’s will and the usurpation of power. Even in that light, Oli’s act not to follow the rule of law at a time when the rule of law is made by people’s will has come as the worst of these events.
When king Mahendra dissolved Parliament legally, the people of Nepal rose in revolt and eventually overthrew the Panchayat system. When king Gyanendra dissolved Parliament using his emergency powers in 2005, people rose against it and abolished the 10-generation-old monarchy. When Charles I of England, using his divine rights, dissolved the British parliament in 1629, he was beheaded. Given Prime Minister Oli’s temerity to defenestrate the present constitution’s provisions about Parliament, a constitution framed by the people’s representatives after such toil, what should be his punishment? Nobody is above the law in contemporary Nepal. Nobody ought to be. Let’s resolve to make 2021 a year of the rule of law and the restoration of constitutionality.