Thursday, April 27, 2006

Nepal -- Trouble not over yet

Nepal is only seemingly normal. It's too early to say that we have seen the last of the troubles in the Himalayan kingdom. I don't think anything much has changed. The king decided to revive Parliament. But dissolution of parliament was only part of a larger problem, wasn't it?

The crux of the Nepal problem is a two-fold poltico-social one.

Political -- the active role the king plays in administration.

Social -- the corruption that bedevils Nepal's democracy.

Monarchy is a major issue. But, the bigger issue is corruption.

A brief peek into the past:

* From 1846 to 1951 Nepal was ruled by a hereditary prime minister of the Rana family. The Ranas were overthrown in a revolution led by Nepali congress and the monarchy.

* Ever since king and politicians took over the administration, they have always clashed over policy. First elections were held in 1959, and the very next year, the king dissolved parliament and banned political parties!

* During the eighties, there was the party-less panchayat system of governance. No one liked that either. In April 1990, after a similar violent agitation, the king abolished the panchayat system and introduced multiparty democracy.

* In May 1990, absolute monarchy was abolished. Political power was transferred from monarchy to an elected government. The present constitutional monarchy was born then.

* Now the issue is total overthrow of the monarchy. Just get rid of the king!

Both Maoists and political parties -- the Seven Party Alliance -- are now pressing for an election to the constituent assembly which will end monarchy and make Nepal a republic.

Will the king willingly abdicate? If he does, one irritant is gone.

Like the political parties, the Communist rebels too are against the monarchy. If the king goes, the Maoists too will be happy. But only partly.

Why? Because, they are basically upset with the way Nepal's democracy is -- or at least was -- being run. Maoists too used to be part of the democratic system. But they pulled out because they were disenchanted with the ballot. They turned to the bullet.

Maoists realised that the political class is not bothered about the country's poor. They also felt that the lower castes are victims of upper caste hegemony.

Today, Maoist rebels, who draw inspiration from Peru's Shining Path guerrillas, are a real force; on a par with the Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Therein lies the danger. Danger for Nepal and for India.

The underlying turmoil within the larger Nepalese society wouldn't go away with the mere restoration of parliament or even abdication of the king.

Looking far ahead, if at all the king went for good (it'sn't going to be that easy), then the common enemy of the Maoists and the politicians would have gone. Then for the Maoists, the main suspect would be the politicians. Would that gap be bridged? If so, how easily?

Only if Maoists and the mainstream politicians see eye to eye, will Nepal be firmly on the path of peace and development.

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