Can the Hindu movement become an alternative political force?The appeal of the monarchy and a Hindu force can backfire, as they frequently disavow the principles of inclusion and democracy.
Ajaya Bhadra Khanal
Prime Minister KP Oli's move to dissolve Parliament has merged two political crises into one: the crisis of democracy and the crisis of development. Our democracy is in crisis because the state is designed to accumulate power; it requires a violation of the rule of law. Our development is in crisis because the state is designed to extract and steal; it serves a small group of political elites and their cronies.
Despite the new constitution, we have not been able to ensure the rule of law or change the character of the Nepali state. Our nation has failed to deliver good governance and development despite the availability of many critical resources in the last two decades. The primary obstacles we cite, like the Maoist conflict, political instability, corruption and administrative inefficiency are conditions of our own making.
Given the difficulties of reform, and our inability to ensure development and democracy, many people are now turning to former king Gyanendra and a Hindu religious movement. But can that really be the solution we are looking for?
State, capitalism and failure of parties
Historically, what has hindered the ability of the people to make progress is the Nepali state itself. Rather than being a medium of providing public goods, it has been designed to steal and limit opportunities so as to benefit only the political elites and their cronies.
This concept is not new. In fact, several political revolutions were based on this very assessment.
Many ethnographic and historical case studies in Nepal show that before the dual processes of state formation and capitalism started, ethnic communities in Nepal were more or less self-dependent and democratic. Although King Prithvi Narayan Shah's unification of Nepal started a process of state formation, it also created a state that was designed to extract money and power from the people.
So while we celebrate the formation of a beautiful nation, we repent the creation of an evil state.
Since then most of the revolutions in Nepal were struggles carried out by the people against the State, particularly the revolutions and movements of 1950, 1990 and 2006. These three revolutions introduced new parties in Nepal. The 1950 revolution established Nepali Congress as a vehicle of change, while the 1990 movement established the Communist Party of Nepal-UML as another major party. Similarly, the 2006 movement introduced the Maoists and Madhes-based parties as new political forces.
If the last 15 years are anything to go by, all the parties and their leaders have failed. The current ruling regime has failed the most. In fact, it wants to reverse the agenda of state restructuring.
The problem is, all political parties have become undemocratic and feudal, losing the ability to check and balance the party in power or to value rule of law. After Prime Minister KP Oli cast aside the principles of constitutionalism and dissolved the House of Representatives, four types of political forces have become visible in the streets.
The first type, the warring faction of the Nepal Communist Party, is driven by grievances. The second, the royalists and monarchists, are regrouping and asserting their political existence, though sometimes as an ally of the prime minister. The third type of political force is a loose assemblage of civil society actors, where novel figures have found voice. The fourth type of political force is led by the Janata Samajbadi Party, which is yet to decide whether it wants to continue feudal politics or represent the current of inclusion and democracy.
Lost in the hullabaloo is Nepali Congress, whose sole strategy appears to be one of how to extract opportunities and, fearing people's wrath, still appear as if they are democratic. Nepali Congress has failed as an opposition party. It failed to take a strong stance against Oli's move to dissolve Parliament. The party succumbed to interests of individual political leaders over that of the nation.
With constitutionalism and democracy in crisis, what matters is not who supports or opposes KP Oli, but who has the capacity to address the root causes of our malaise—the breakdown of rule of law and kleptocratic political organisation of the state.
The fundamental principle of separation of powers is that Parliament has the sovereign right to enact laws and policies, the executive functions on the basis of the powers granted through the laws, and the judiciary enforces adherence to these laws. The failure of separation of powers is one reason why rule of law has broken down.
The fusion of Parliament and the executive poses a serious threat to the principle of separation of powers. Although separation of power exists as a central pillar of Nepal's constitution, it does not exist in practice. Evidence and examples in the last two decades show that political leaders do not appoint judges to the Supreme Court without first ensuring fealty.
The only institutions that can ensure adherence to democracy are the political parties. But the largest political parties have failed to overcome endemic feudalism bolstered by a kleptocratic mindset.
There are only a limited number of viable options. First is to reform the existing political parties and make their representatives accountable. It requires a system where all of their general members can elect party officials and candidates. The second option is to fight for the rule of law and constitutionalism; a civilian movement is currently leading the charge. Another option is to work with the design of the state institutions and their process through policy interventions. All of these strategies are already being explored by many, but are yet to bear fruit.
Yet another option is to encourage the creation of a new political force. Nepali people are looking for a real democratic alternative that can check and balance the current crop of political parties, or ideally, replace them. In the absence of that, a royalist force can also do some good.
At one moment in our political history, the appeal to the former king to save the nation—raja aau, desh bachau—appeared like a farce. But now, when the ‘democratic’ political forces are engaging in this travesty of governance, the archaic has become another source of hope for many people. They believe that a Hindu rightist force is needed to decimate the new crop of kleptocrats and autocrats.
However, the appeal of monarchy and Hindu forces can backfire, as they frequently disavow the principles of inclusion and democracy. It is difficult for the royalist Hindu movement to adopt inclusion and democracy as core values. Its role in Nepali politics, therefore, can only remain as a disruptor of the status quo and as a Sword of Damocles that constantly reminds the current political elites not to ignore democracy and good governance.