Nepal’s democracy revolutions, and achievements and failuresAs the country celebrates democracy, observers see some gains, some hollow promises.
The country has witnessed three revolutions for democracy in the past seven decades. The first was in 1950 when the people revolted to end the century-long autocratic Rana regime. The long protest of the people paid off when the country ushered in democracy in 1951.
It, however, was short-lived as King Mahendra hijacked it through a royal-military coup in 1960. He took direct control of the executive authority from the leaders who were elected for the first time by the people. It took 30 years to end the rule of the Palace until the Nepali people in 1990 launched a decisive protest to restore democracy in the country.
The country adopted a multiparty democracy with constitutional monarchy. Freedom of speech, right to equality and other civil and political rights were enshrined in the 1990 constitution. That, however, didn’t get translated into actions, fully. The parties elected to power failed to live up to the expectations of the people. They were more focused on petty partisan interests and leaders paid little attention to people and their concerns who yearned for development and prosperity.
Six years into democracy, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist waged an armed struggle against the state which it said was to establish the “rule of the people.” The non-performance of the mainstream political parties fueled the Maoist movement. As the country fell into deep uncertainties, King Gyanendra, following the path of his father, usurped power in 2005. He sabotaged the democratic institutions which prompted political parties, including the Maoists, and the people from different walks of life to unite together against Gyanedra’s absolute rule.
That movement against Gyanedra in 2006 lasted 19 days. Gyanedra finally capitulated. People's power prevailed. Multiparty democracy was restored. The ground for turning Nepal into a federal republic was also created. The 2006 revolution also gave rise to the identity movement. The Madhes uprising in 2007, which took place on the foundation laid by the 2006 movement, prompted the country to become federal.
The country became a republic, the Hindu kingdom turned into a secular nation and transitioned into a federal set-up abandoning the decades long centralised system of governance. It is the contribution of the 2006 revolution that the country adopted the principles of inclusion in the state machinery though much needs to be done for them to be institutionalised.
Political analysts say the major achievement of the different revolutions is the shift in the political system.
“There have been paradigm changes in the political system. However, it hasn’t yielded expected results,” Rajendra Maharjan, a political analyst, told the Post. “It is because the same old faces continued to be in power despite changes in the political system.”
In his view, the same “dirty politics” that was dominant after the 1990 people’s revolution continues even to this day as the political behaviour and political culture of the parties remain the same. Democratisation of the existing parties and their leadership is a major challenge at present.
Analysts say despite contributions of the people from different communities in democratic movements in the country, there couldn’t be economic and cultural transformations. The marginalised communities continue to suffer economically and culturally. A large number of the people from the Dalit community, for instance, still don’t possess land, say analysts.
“Inequality is rife. Only a certain section is enjoying state benefits,” Daman Nath Dhungana, a former Speaker and a civil society member, told the Post. “Our leaders do not have any agenda for development. Nor are they committed to addressing the concerns of the people, especially those from the marginalised communities that have suffered oppression for long.”
Dhungana says the political transformation alone makes no sense unless every section of society feels that there is the state for the people to look after them.
The Constitution of Nepal promulgated in 2015 envisions an inclusive state. Article 42 states that representation in the state machinery should be based on the principles of inclusion. However, other than specified in the constitution and laws, the government and parties have always been hesitant in ensuring representation of women and other communities. Neither the Cabinet nor the constitutional and ambassadorial nominations, for instance, are inclusive.
According to experts, democracy can be strengthened only when the people are empowered.
“However, least has been done to empower the people as the parties have been constantly bickering for power,” Meena Vaidya Malla, a former professor of political science at the Tribhuvan University, told the Post. “History has provided several opportunities for the parties to perform but they have failed miserably.”
She says had the parties been committed to the country and the people, a lot could have been achieved after 1990 and 2006.
Observers say even though the country has gone through different revolutions and embraced different political systems, political parties are still unclear on what kind of security policy and foreign policy the country should adopt. “This is necessary because oftentimes external politics gets intertwined with domestic policies,” said Dhungana.
Some political experts believe there is a need for yet another revolution in the country as dissatisfaction among the people is rising.
Maharjan says discontent is brewing in society, but how and when it will erupt is difficult to predict.
“All the revolutions so far have been political. I believe the country is waiting for an economic or cultural revolution,” he said. “A new revolt is inevitable as only a certain section has benefitted from the changes so far.”
Dhunanga also says a new revolution may happen but he says that is not possible in the near future. According to him, no alternative force has emerged to pose a challenge to the existing parties.
“The existing parties aren’t changing because there is no powerful force to challenge them,” he said. “I think the country will continue to move ahead in the same fashion as it has been, at least for a while.”