The why, how and who of the anti-federalism, pro-king ralliesThe rallies, though small, are an expression of frustration with not only the government but also the opposition for failing to play a meaningful role in a democracy, and should be taken as a warning, observers say.
Twelve years ago, Nepal, in what was dubbed a giant leap forward, abolished the 240 years of royal rule and transitioned into a republic. The Constituent Assembly was tasked with drawing up a new constitution.
Nepali political parties took seven years to draft the constitution. The 2017 elections gave a clear mandate to a communist alliance of then CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre), which after a merger gave birth to the Nepal Communist Party, which is currently governing the country.
KP Sharma Oli returned to power in February 2018 for a second time–this time with a strong mandate to lead the government for the full five-year term, something which had not happened in more than two and a half decades. Oli had his task cut out–implementing the constitution, strengthening federalism and ensuring good governance.
The Oli administration’s little more than last two-and-a-half years term, however, has been mired in controversy. It faces fierce criticism for failing to deliver, promoting impunity on corruption cases and weakening institutions, with some critics even charging it with putting the hard-earned achievements and constitution at stake.
Amid this, the country of late has been seeing a new phenomenon rising.
After holding rallies in different parts of the country, pro-royalist and pro-Hindu forces on Monday marched on Kathmandu’s streets, demanding scrapping of the federal system and return of the king to what they chanted “save the country”.
Analysts say such random rallies may gain some momentary traction because of the growing frustration among the people against the current dispensation and political parties’ behaviour but there is no need to take them seriously yet.
“Things have not been as we had expected and the way our parties had promised,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator who also writes for the Post’s sister paper Kantipur. “No doubt there is frustration among the people because of poor governance. But that does not mean the country has to revert to the old system.”
Before holding the mass rally in Kathmandu, pro-monarchy and pro-Hindu demonstrators had organised similar rallies in Hetauda, Butwal, Dhangadhi, Nepalgunj, Mahendranagar, Bardiya, Birgunj, Janakpur, Nawalpur, Pokhara, Rautahat and Biratnagar.
Organisations like Rastriya Shakti Nepal, Goraksha Nepal, Bishwo Hindu Mahasangh, Rastriya Sarokar Manch, Shiva Sena Nepal, Bir Gorkhali and Matribhumi Samrakshan Nepal, among others, have been at the forefront of these rallies.
According to Keshar Bahadur Bista, chairman of Rastriya Shakti Nepal which coordinated Monday’s rally in Kathmandu, they have three major agendas–establishment of constitutional monarchy, reinstating Nepal as a Hindu nation and scrapping federalism, as “it divides people and puts the nation in danger.”
“It has become difficult for common people to survive, the country is in crisis,” said Bista. “But the leaders are plundering the state.”
These organisations, however, are little-known entities, lacking political base.
The one politically recognised party that has made constitutional monarchy and reinstatement of Nepal as a Hindu nation is Rastriya Prajatantra Party. The party is even in the federal parliament with one seat.
It, however, is not part of the recent pro-Hindu, pro-monarchy rallies, raising suspicion among many as to whether the fringe forces, which are little known, have the wherewithal to organise such programmes in different parts of the country.
Sagun Lawoti, a central executive committee member of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, described the rallies as a natural reaction “of people” as disenchantment has been growing among the people.
Lawoti, however, said his party is not leading these rallies.
“We are in the discussion phase to officially take the lead of such events,” Lawoti told the Post. “We have our support and solidarity to all those ongoing demonstrations.”
Those carrying out such rallies say they have more plans to continue them in different parts of the country, as public support for them is growing.
“The way we are getting more and more people by every new rally, we are very encouraged that we will achieve our goal,” said Bista, a former minister during Panchayat rule, who was general secretary of the Surya Bahadur Thapa-led Rastriya Janashakti Party. He quit Rastriya Prajatantra Party after RPP (Democratic) and RPP (Nationalist) united to form RPP (Unified) in February last year.
Bista was also quick to point out how the main opposition, Nepali Congress, has failed to hold the government to account for failing to ensure good governance.
Analysts say both the ruling and opposition parties are equally to blame for the way regressive forces are raising their heads.
The major concern is, according to them, the ruling party is not committed to protecting the hard-earned achievements–the constitution and federalism–despite getting a mandate to strengthen them, and the opposition has turned into a mute spectator.
“No one knows if the opposition party is dead or alive in this country,” said Maharjan. “We get to hear about it once in a while but for all the wrong reasons–only when it is involved in bargaining.”
According to Maharjan, both the ruling and opposition parties have failed to discharge duties properly.
“The ruling party is bent on destroying the system as it is drunk on power because it has an absolute majority,” said Maharjan. “The opposition is groping in the dark, failing to put a check on the ruling party’s shenanigans.”
A few weeks ago, even reports had surfaced that Oli and Sher Bahadur Deuba, the leader of the opposition party, were in discussions for a possible power sharing deal should the ruling Nepal Communist Party split.
The Nepal Communist Party is facing a deep crisis with Oli’s bete noires led by the other chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal piling pressure on him to step down.
Oli and Dahal, who until a few weeks ago were involved in verbal war, have taken their fight one notch up–engaging in allegations and counter-allegations in writing.
Even ruling party leaders say the two chairs are responsible for the current mess.
“Our party won the majority… was given a huge electoral mandate, but we failed to make use of it,” said Surendra Pandey, a Standing Committee member of the Nepal Communist Party and former finance minister. “We failed to build a culture, there was a lack of commitment and vision. And this infighting in the party is doing no good.”
The ruling Nepal Communist Party today is a combination of two communist forces which were led by two leaders who at one point of time were poles apart.
Oli’s commitment to federalism has been questioned on more than one occasion, while Dahal is described by many as a leader who championed the federalism cause and who led a war for socio-economic transformation.
The Oli administration’s move to empower chief district officers in the fight against pandemic too had received a lot of criticism, with experts on legal and constitutional matters saying that such a move weakened the federal set-up.
“Due to the government’s non-performance and the opposition party’s failure to make it work, frustration among the public is on the rise,” Wagle told the Post. “In a system that we practice, people look up to the opposition when the governing party fails. If the opposition continues to fail to inspire hope, people could turn to others, including those who are crying foul at the current system.”
According to Wagle, the concern is not that a handful of people are out on the streets. “That the Oli administration has failed is just a fraction of a larger concern,” said Wagle. “The bigger concern is that the way the ruling and opposition parties are behaving could put the existing system in danger.”
When it was voted to power, the Nepal Communist Party’s constituents were not only mandated to govern for five years but also to implement the constitution over the period.
Constitution implementation entails ensuring laws for the federal system, devolution of power, strengthening of the institutions, empowering constitutional bodies and ensuring independence to institutions.
But from the very beginning, Prime Minister Oli started to display authoritative steraks, as he tried to centralise power, contrary to what the constitution envisioned.
“As the government failed, we as the opposition too failed,” admitted Gagan Thapa, a Nepali Congress lawmaker. “It’s still not too late for us to introspect. It’s the opposition that should have been seen on the streets and in parliament. Instead, it’s royalist forces that are being talked about.”
According to Thapa, current leadership, of both the ruling and opposition parties, should not make a mistake of making light of such developments.
“Our leadership cannot simply point a finger at the government and say such a phenomenon won’t last long,” said Thapa. “We will have to pay a price if we continue to ignore what is in front of us and realise the possible threat.”
Observers say what is even more worrying is that the ruling party is engaged in its own infighting at a time when forces that are calling out the parties that championed the cause of socio-political transformation are getting the attention.
It looks like the threat to the current system, which was achieved because of the sacrifice of many people, is from the dispensation rather than external forces, according to them.
“A stable government does not necessarily usher in political stability. And I have been saying this for long,” said Lokraj Baral, a professor of political science at Tribhuvan University and former ambassador to India. “In a country like ours, where individualistic and centralised mindset prevails, legal and constitutional provisions do not work.”
According to Baral, a majority or a two-thirds majority is just a number.
“Majority is just a technical thing,” said Baral. “What matters is whether the leadership is committed to the cause… whether the leadership is really responsible to the people, the country and the system
Some in the ruling party, who did not want to speak openly, even suspected if the Oli administration has a quiet backing to the current pro-monarchy and pro-Hindu demonstrations.
Their suspicion emanates from the fact that the rallies are being held without any obstruction at a time when the government has banned mass gatherings in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was not long ago the Oli administration had employed security forces when a youth-led campaign named Enough is Enough was on the streets demanding an end to corruption, good governance and polymerase chain reaction tests for all.
“It looks like two forces are working hand in glove to destroy the existing system–Oli from the current dispensation and a bunch of royalist forces from the streets,” said a Standing Committee member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party who represents the former Maoist party. “We wonder if Oli and deposed king Gyanendra are working in cahoots.”
Analysts like Maharjan, however, see little threats from the street demonstrations in favour of the monarchy and Hindu state but with caveats that the parties that brought in changes must not be complacent.
“We should not be worried about losing the system because of some demonstrations here and there. But our leaders must give a thought if they are genuinely working for the larger cause,” Maharjan told the Post.
“Over the past few years, people have made a lot of sacrifices to achieve what we have today. It’s a giant leap. But it depends on leaders to make sure that it is not a leap to nowhere.”