Bumpy road ahead in Nepal

IssueApril 2007
Feature by Dharma Adhikari, Milan Rai
  • How would you describe the state of democracy in Nepal one year on from the jana andolan II?

    Symbolically, people-power triumphed, thus giving way to some semblance of a democratic dispensation. Structurally, at least on paper, the interim parliament has almost dismantled the old order that derived much of its powers from the palace. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, in terms of their aspirations, attitudes and behaviours - the grassroots signs of a democracy in action - Nepalis can no longer be lumped into a passive or an indifferent lot.

    In practice democratic transition is in a dangerously fluid stage. The Maoists have not been fully restrained. As indicated by the madhesi and janajati (indigenous peoples) uprisings in recent months, people-power has far from triumphed, and the procedures of change adopted by the unelected parliament have not always been constitutional.

  • Do you think that the Maoist shift to constitutional politics, and the general constitutional shift to (semi-)republican politics are irreversible?

    On the surface, it certainly appears so. But the only thing predictable about Nepali politics is it is unpredictable. The most prominent of political pundits failed to predict the royal coup of 2005. They thought the gains of the jana andolan I of 1990 were irreversible. Hardly anyone ever believed that the democratic parties would align with the Maoists.

  • How would you describe the state of public opinion in terms of citizen self-confidence in helping to shape the future?

    Polls within a week of one another report contradictory findings, sometimes without even mentioning the margin of error. Nonetheless, from what one can gather from personal observations, interactions, and mass media coverage, Nepalis are talking, and they are talking aloud.

    Many topics that were taboo not long ago, such as the autonomy of indigenous groups, full rights to women, total religious freedom, to name only a few, are now part of the mainstream.

  • How would you describe the significance of nonviolent action in the democratic openings of 1950-51, when the oppressive Rana prime ministers were dislodged from supreme power, 1990-91, when the first jana andolan forced parliamentary democracy on the king, and 2006?

    There is not a single major political party in Nepal that rose to power or helped usher change solely in a nonviolent way (except in 1990-91). The mainstream Nepali Congress party (NC) toppled the Rana oligarchy in 1951 using armed struggle. The NC latter adopted both violent and nonviolent methods to restore democracy dismantled by King Mahendra, and, later, in the early 1970s, against feudal forces.

    But it was only by means of a nonviolent mass movement led by an alliance of political parties in 1990 that democracy was finally restored, only to be dismantled in 2005.

  • To what extent do you think the jana andolan II was consciously nonviolent in its methods - nonviolent in the Gandhian sense?

    Although some news reports said that Maoists had infiltrated the demonstrators, the Seven Party Alliance and civil society groups led a peaceful movement.

    But as far as verbal violence or passive violence is concerned, I think jana andolan II was not unlike other movements in the past, including 1990, which were replete with slogans of hatred, threats, curses, etc, against the adversaries.

  • In your view, how important was the unarmed nature of the April uprising to its success?

    It was important. It provided a moral stamp and legitimacy to the movement. The largely nonviolent movement could achieve in 19 days what the armed struggle of the Maoists could not do in 10 years.

    The generally peaceful nature of the pro-democracy moment also helped earn the support of the international community. Ironically, the April uprising also owed its success to the violent crackdown by the government.

Topics: Nepal
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