Nepal: the rising

Kanak Mani Dixit
23 April 2006

Amidst an exhilarating people's movement in Nepal that has spread like wildfire against the Gyanendra autocracy since early April, one develops a perspective a week-and-half into detention. Taken in with two dozen activists for defying the first day's curfew order, and kept here at the Duwakot armed police barracks on the edge of the Kathmandu valley, this has been a time to observe – with desperate detachment – the spontaneous combustion across the country. I want to be back on the streets, to be part of this history-making people's tsunami.

The citizens of Nepal first tasted the elixir of freedom after the 1990 people's movement brought down the palace-run panchayat system. And then came this self-destructive king with a medieval worldview. Though flaunting the name Gyanendra (the "fount of knowledge"), here was someone bent on proving his contempt for Nepal's 26 million citizens.

Kanak Mani Dixit is a Nepali journalist and editor of the Kathmandu-based south Asian magazine Himal

This article is also published on outlookindia.com

Also by Kanak Mani Dixit in openDemocracy:

"Nepal: the underbelly of the beast" (April 2006)

The people kept their counsel for as long as they could, even as the political parties – caught as they were between the gun held by the king's obsequious Royal Nepal Army and that of the Maoist rebels – sought with difficulty to raise a movement. But pressure was building from below as the people awakened to the loss of democracy, which they soon realised also blocked the path to peace.

A dozen years of freedom had developed in the public a willingness to challenge authority – something that Gyanendra was not able to grasp. When the dam burst in all its democratic fury, he responded with calculated brutality, but the wave was too immense to be stopped by batons and bullets. People streamed from villages to district towns, cities became gorged with demonstrators – peasants, daily wage-earners, housewives – demanding pluralism and rejecting the royal agenda.

What changed over the autumn of 2005 was the Maoist leadership providing credible assurances through a series of semi-underground meetings and interviews in New Delhi about their intention to abandon the "people's war" and join mainstream multi-party politics. This gave fillip to the movement and energised the parties even while Gyanendra continued his corrupt, vainglorious rule with the help of all the lowlife it was possible to gather from Kathmandu's seedy mansions – appointing them ministers, administrators, judges and even anti-corruption czars. It would not take long for the andolan to translate into a jana andolan, from "movement" to "people's movement".

Gyanendra actually misapplied the constitution in October 2002, when he started appointing prime ministers at will, and in conducting his full-fledged coup of February 2005 he discarded the document completely. The last fourteen months have been marked by the destruction of the entire government superstructure, evaporation of development activity, and a loot of the exchequer. Militarisation has been the cruellest royal gift to the populace, and with it a continuation of the army's dirty war. Gyanendra's endgame has been to order his henchmen security chiefs to harshly suppress the jana andolan. As one political cartoon had it, Gyanendra has his fingers on the harmonium keyboard as the country burns.

openDemocracy writers analyse the crisis of democracy in Nepal in

Anuj Mishra, "Nepal's war without end"
(April 2005)

Chandra D Bhatta "Nepal's civil war: from security to politics"
(May 2005)

Manjushree Thapa, "Democracy in Nepal and the 'international community'"
(May 2005)

Manjushree Thapa, "Nepal's political rainy season" (July 2005)

Dharma Adhikari, "Nepal's folly: talking absolutes at high altitude"
(January 2006)

Nepali civil-society activists, "Nepal's future: a letter from Duwakot" (April 2006)

Anuj Mishra, "Democracy from below: a grassroots revolution in Nepal" (April 2006)

Nepal's democratic tide

People will own the democracy that is being recrafted in Nepal today because they have fought for it all over the land. That's what is so thrilling about this moment, for the polity being created will not be something handed down by fiat from Kathmandu's powerful cliques. For too long, these cliques have ruled the roost, denigrated democracy, sidetracked political parties, and supported the regressive kingship. It was the support base of this valley elite and the urban middle class that Gyanendra used to grasp at absolute monarchy.

The people's movement of 2062-63 (according to the Nepali Vikram Sambat which heralded the new year on 13 April) is turning Nepal inside out, and for the better. Already, the given Nepali term for democracy – prajatantra – has been rejected by the demonstrators for its reference to "subjects". Instead, the new coinage in currency is loktranta, and many are already pushing for loktrantik ganatantra, a republic without a kingship.

Loktrantik Nepal will be an edgy and raucous democracy, yet it will be stable. This stability will usher economic growth that will also benefit neighbouring populations, particularly in the Ganga (Ganges) plain. This stability will also promote the process of redefining and restructuring the state; in the first instance, by putting the renegade army in its proper place and either handcuffing a kingship that has been such a tragic embarrassment, or doing away with it altogether.

Looking ahead, we need to undo everything that Gyanendra has wrought, and then work to reconstruct the infrastructure and rehabilitate a national psyche torn by a decade of internal war. Most importantly, the road is being cleared for constituent assembly elections which will help bring the Maoists into the mainstream and draft a new basic law to deliver a participatory, inclusive state that corrects the wrong turns of history.

There is a real possibility of such a turning of the page, because the citizens who have fought for this change will surely continue strictly to monitor their political representatives. Thanks to the people's rebellion, Nepal might just do all south Asia proud. The reader will pardon my presumption, and good cheer, as I write this from inside, looking out at a transforming nation.

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