Dictated Democracy and Royal Rule can Never Suppress Nepal People’s Struggle for a Genuine Republic!

-- Kavita krishnan

King Gyanendra’s New Cothes!

February 18. A scene out of Alice in Wonderland, with the King and his soldiers ordering his ‘subjects’ to celebrate ‘Democracy Day’ in Nepal; if you ask questions, it’s “Off with your head!” Military personnel armed to the teeth patrol every street. Military officials stationed in media houses and newspaper offices, vetting every piece of news. Nepal’s people can’t use the phone, can’t e-mail, can’t communicate with the outer world, and less so amongst themselves. Its popular and charismatic student leaders are in jail; thousands of political leaders, human rights activists, and other dissidents are either under arrest or underground. And no one seems to have swallowed Gyanendra’s boasts about his new garb of ‘Democratic’ Emergency! Nepal’s people have been quick to say that ‘King Gyanendra’s ‘Democracy’ has no clothes’; they have unanimously declared his coup as a naked assault on Nepal’s ongoing struggle for genuine, complete democracy.

Thanks to the blocking of communication lines, it’s difficult to know exactly how people are protesting. But what has trickled through is that resistance has been prompt. Students of Prithvi Narayan College, Pokhara, resisted the entry of the Army into their campus, and were shot at, blindfolded, beaten as a result; in Padma Kanya College, students have painted the walls with the declaration: “Republic Area: Strictly Out of Bounds for Gyanendra!”; the Maoists enforced an effective economic blockade; surprise torchlight processions and protest gatherings have taken place. Most newspapers, rather than carry the humiliating ‘official’ news bulletins, have chosen to register their protest by carrying blank pages – a silent invitation to readers to fill them with their own dissent? In lieu of an editorial, one paper carried blank pages with just one quotation from Abraham Lincoln, “The gun can never be more powerful than people’s opinion”. Others, by way of ridiculous editorials on bee keeping or horticulture, conveyed their ridicule for censorship.

For Indians, the earliest reports brought moments of intense shame and anger. Seeing the news of a Nepali Tianenmen Square, in which helicopters were used to fire from the air at protesting students, we in India could not but recall that those helicopters were very probably one of the many gifted by either the previous or the present Indian Government. So, by proxy, we Indians have the blood of our brothers and sisters in Nepal on our hands. It was people’s mass protests which had forced the NDA Government to refrain from sending troops to Iraq; it is the widespread outrage among Indians which has forced the UPA Government to belatedly suspend military aid to Nepal. In recent years, India, like the US and UK, had massively hiked military aid to Nepal, pumping arms and funds into Nepal in the name of containing the Maoist insurgents. It is this borrowed muscle which the Nepal King has flexed in his latest move of totally muzzling democracy and political expression.

Lessons of History

Why did the King pick February 18 to cloak his Emergency in the garb of Democracy? In Nepal’s long and tumultuous struggle for democracy, there have been several dates, several junctures which are surely more relevant, more representative of ‘democracy’. February 18 actually marks the day in 1951 when popular protests and Indian intervention resulted in an end to the rule of the Rana regime, which for over a century had held the Nepal’s Kings captive. King Tribhuvan, who ascended the throne at that juncture, made several promises of initiating multi-party democracy – promises that he shamelessly broke right uptil his death in 1955. February 18 only marks the barest beginnings of Nepal’s democratic aspirations. Gyanendra prefers this date of 1951 to the more recent one of 1990, because the latter commemorates the partial victory of Nepal’s people over the monarchy, in fact, the beginning of the end of the Nepal monarchy, whereas the former marks the ascendancy of that same monarchy.

The movement in 1990 ushered in a fledgling democracy where parliamentary, multi-party democracy shared an uneasy bed with constitutional monarchy. And monarchy is Nepal had none of the mere ornamentalism of its British counterpart; the King, as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, enjoys significant executive powers and is invested with the right to dismiss governments and impose Emergency – a right that Nepal’s Kings have exercised with almost monotonous predictability. Nepal’s political parties, including its major Communist parties had at that time conceded to this arrangement on the plea that the institution of monarchy is a powerful national symbol for Nepal’s people. Whether these parties exaggerated the backwardness of Nepal society or not, what is clear from the last 14 years is that the monarchy, if allowed to survive, will inevitably militate against Nepal’s incipient modern democracy by hanging on to a medieval and autocratic model of power.

The Communist Movement and the Struggle for Democracy

Nepal’s Communist parties have historically played a great role at the forefront of its Democracy Movement. Popular support for this movement was reflected in the emergence of the CPN(UML) emerging as a significant Opposition force with 69 seats in the 1991 elections, and the United People’s Front of Nepal (today’s Maoists) winning 9 seats. In 1994, the CPN(UML) with 89 seats even formed a minority Government which survived six months before being dissolved. This period, when Parliamentary politics in Nepal came closest to reflecting people’s democratic aspirations, the Maoists withdrew from Parliamentary practice.

Subsequently, Parliamentary polity in Nepal declined rapidly, with most parties suffering splits and infighting, Governments falling every year, and the Communist parties succumbing to parliamentary deviations and splits. In the growing disillusionment with the parliamentary parties, the Maoists stepped in. Successive puppet governments, appointed and dismissed by the King, sharpened the popular disillusionment. The 2001 palace massacre, attributed by many to an imperialist conspiracy given shape by King Gyanendra, speeded up the erosion of the legitimacy of the monarchy in general and King Gyanendra in particular, and significantly boosted the Maoists’ campaign for a full-fledged Republic to end the power of the monarchy.

Even as the Army’s writ failed to run in the vast Maoist-commanded rural areas – some say 77% of Nepal – and wholesale military repression, complete with massacres, executions and a record number of ‘disappearances’ failed to silence the demand for a Constituent Assembly to constitute a Republic, the monarchy began to exercise desperate measures.

A series of puppet regimes were appointed and dismissed by King Gyanendra. The present imposition of Emergency already had its dress rehearsal in 2002. It was at that juncture that the vacillation of the mainstream Parliamentary parties took their toll. Including the UML, they went to the extent of extending support to the Emergency, in the name of curbing the Maoists. Later they withdrew from this active support to the autocratic King, but failed to spearhead any timely initiative or campaign against the monarchy. This period irresistibly invites one to draw a parallel with the time when Emergency was imposed by Indira Gandhi in India. The capitulation of a section of Communists; the paralysis of the mainstream Communist current: all these can be seen on the recent occasions when Emergency was imposed in Nepal.

We can get a sense of the dangerously muddled reading of the situation by the mainstream Communist Party, in an interview with CPN(UML) General Secretary Madhav Nepal ( Time Asia, February 2, 2003 / Vol. 163 No. 4). Almost exactly two years before the fateful royal clampdown on any vestige of democracy, Madhav Nepal was able to say, “We must transform both sides, although it is true to say that the democracy of the King is better than the democracy of the Maoists.” (emphasis is the author’s) Asked about his opinion on military aid by India and others to Nepal (aid that then, no less than now, was being used to bolster the King’s besieged power, and crackdown on the Nepali people in the countryside), his reply was:

“I don't like to see the increasing involvement of foreign forces and foreign interference in our internal affairs. We don't like to see Nepal used by other countries for their own interests. But we can't say much about it because the Maoists are killing people: both sides are not behaving properly, in fact, although the Maoists deserve more of the blame.
However, if foreigners are supporting the autocratic steps of the King, then we oppose them. If there is an autocratic King, all the assistance provided by foreign forces will be of no use. The money and the weapons will be misused. If they are for the democratic rights of the people, on the other hand, then they might have some positive effect.”


His answer begs the question: to what “use” does he wish military assistance to be put? Is his objection to the fact that the King is using foreign military muscle to defend a medieval monarchy and crush the movement for a Republic, or is his objection merely on the grounds that the King in question happens to be autocratic?

Later, in June 2004, the UML’s agreement to be a part of the bonsai Deuba regime, and the failure of Nepal’s parliamentary parties to put up any frontal resistance to the King at that juncture, no doubt emboldened the King. The King effectively took full advantage of a discredited puppet Government to stake a claim for total unfettered power: something he could not have done so easily had these parties then forged ahead with a full-fledged movement for thoroughgoing democracy rather than throwing in their lot with the King.


Needed Urgently: A United Movement Against Monarchy, For Thoroughgoing Democracy!

The Maoists wasted no time in calling for a united struggle, expressing readiness to ally with any party that would support a Constituent Assembly for writing a new Constitution and a multi-party, pro-people democracy. The UML has not ruled out such a possibility either. Even as the monarchy is progressively more discredited by the day, well-wishers of the Nepali people would certainly like to see the spectrum of Nepal’s democratic forces unite on a plank of establishing a full-fledged Republic and dealing a death blow to the obsolete monarchy. The King is banking on the hope that given a choice between the monarchy and the Maoists, the national and international forces will be forced to back the monarchy. His plans can be foiled if all the democratic forces unite, changing the balance of forces and isolating the King by launching a powerful mass pro-Republic movement against the monarchy.

While India can and will be a base for Nepal’s migrant population to participate in their country’s pro-democracy movement, and Nepal’s political parties and leaders too are initially regrouping in India, the fact remains that a real and effective resistance can only be built up within Nepal itself.

No Imperialist or Indian Crutches to Nepal’s Monarchy

The US, UK and India came out with condemnations of Gyanendra’s coup, while China fought shy of doing so. But one should be wary of taking these condemnations at face value. As of now, the US and UK have not stopped military aid, although India has just done so. The likes of the US are taking refuge behind the flimsy fig-leaf of international law, which requires military aid to stop once a military coup takes a place. A Royal coup by a Constitutional King, they argue, does not qualify. But many observers have pointed out that for all intents and purposes, Gyanendra’s move is a military coup; the fact that the Commander of the Army happens also to be a King is neither here nor there!

Actually, neither the US and UK, nor India, care a fig for democracy in Nepal. What the imperialists want is maximum manoeuvrability in Nepal and a pretext for a foothold in South Asia. India’s only apprehension is that the present Emergency may end up helping the Maoists to consolidate. They would be only too happy if the power of the King were to continue to overshadow democracy, minus the overt declaration of Emergency.

We in India must remain vigilant against any move by our Government to support repressive regimes in Nepal, whether by the front or the back door. We must speak out against each and every crackdown by the Indian Govt on Nepali migrants in India as well as Indian people’s movements, using Nepal’s insurgency as an excuse. We must demand an end to the Emergency, and extend closest solidarity and cooperation to the movement of the Nepali people for establishing a thoroughgoing democracy.


CPI(ML) Condemns Emergency in Nepal;
Supports People’s Movement in Nepal
for Restoration of Democracy
without any External Intervention

CPI(ML) joins the people of Nepal and the international democratic opinion to denounce the imposition of Emergency by King Gyanendra and to demand immediate restoration of multi-party democracy in Nepal. Since the Palace Massacre of 2001 and the rise of King Gyanendra, the Royal Palace of Nepal has been systematically subverting the fledgling democratic system established through the powerful people’s movement of 1990. The declaration of Emergency is nothing short of a complete royal coup and a total war on the democratic rights and aspirations of the Nepalese people.

Of late, Western foreign powers led by the United States have stepped up their intervention in the internal affairs of Nepal. There is every reason to suspect that US imperialism will try every trick to exploit the present impasse in Nepal to intensify its strategic intervention in the region. While expressing fullest solidarity with the people of Nepal in their battle for restoration of democracy, the CPI(ML) calls upon the Indian people to oppose any move by any foreign power to use the present situation in Nepal as a pretext for any kind of external intervention.

It is the prerogative of the people of Nepal to defeat the present state of Emergency and foil the royal conspiracy to win the battle for developing Nepal as a constitutional democratic republic.

Dipankar Bhattacharya
General Secretary

Sangh Parivar Supports Medieval Autocratic Monarchy in Nepal
RSS backs Nepal king, VHP welcomes his actions

New Delhi | February 09, 2005
Indo-Asian News Service 
New Delhi, Feb 9 : Leading Hindu groups who have long seen Nepal as the world's only Hindu kingdom appear to support King Gyanendra's move to suspend democracy on grounds of cracking down on Maoists.

Notwithstanding India's disapproval, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) -- the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s ideological mentor -- and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have justified the king's actions.

"I do not understand all this criticism from India," RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav told IANS. "We want democracy to flourish around the world, but what about Goa?"

"We don't have any problems sharing a bed with (Pakistan President Parvez) Musharraf but we have a problem sitting next to the Nepal king at the SAARC summit? That is hypocrisy," he said.

The RSS asserted the methods that the Nepal monarch was employing to crack down on Maoists was "purely an internal matter".

"From the Indian point of view, whether there is monarchy or democracy in Nepal, the administration should effectively control the Maoist menace, which the king is trying to do," said Madhav.

He scoffed at the political demands for restoration of democracy, especially from Left parties that support the Congress-led government from outside.

"Since when have our Marxist friends become so democratic?" he questioned. "Why are they so agitated? Why don't they campaign for democracy in China and Tibet? Why these double standards?"

The VHP, which maintains deep socio-religious ties with Nepal due to its role in Hindu mythology, went a step further and welcomed the king's move.

"The king took matters in his own hand when he felt the Maoist menace was increasing. If he manages to curb it, it will be a big achievement and benefit not only Nepal but also India," said VHP leader Vishnu Hari Dalmiya.

"If a state of emergency is needed for this, then there is a provision in the constitution for that. India should support the king in his efforts."


Timeline: Nepal's turbulent history

1951 - End of Rana rule. Sovereignty of crown restored and anti-Rana rebels in Nepalese Congress Party form government.

1955 - King Tribhuwan dies, King Mahendra ascends throne.

1959 - Multi-party constitution adopted.

1960 - King Mahendra seizes control and suspends parliament, constitution and party politics after Nepali Congress Party (NCP) wins elections with B. P. Koirala as premier.

1962 - New constitution provides for non-party system of councils known as "panchayat" under which king exercises sole power. First elections to Rastrya Panchayat held in 1963.

1972 - King Mahendra dies, succeeded by Birendra.

1980 - Constitutional referendum follows agitation for reform. Small majority favours keeping existing panchayat system. King agrees to allow direct elections to national assembly - but on a non-party basis.

1985 - Communists begin civil disobedience campaign for restoration of multi-party system.

1986 - New elections boycotted by communists.

1989 - Trade and transit dispute with India leads to border blockade by Delhi resulting in worsening economic situation.

1990 - Pro-democracy agitation co-ordinated by communist and leftist groups. Street protests suppressed by security forces resulting in deaths and mass arrests. King Birendra eventually bows to pressure and agrees to new democratic constitution.

1991 - Nepali Congress Party wins first democratic elections. Girija Prasad Koirala becomes prime minister.

1994 - Koirala's government defeated in no-confidence motion. New elections lead to formation of UML Communist government.

1995 - Communist government dissolved. Radical leftist group, the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) begins insurrection in rural areas aimed at abolishing monarch and establishing people's republic.

1997 - Continuing political instability as Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is defeated and replaced by Lokendra Bahadur Chand. Chand is then forced to resign because of party splits and is replaced by Surya Bahadur Thapa.

1998 - Thapa stands down because of party splits. GP Koirala returns as prime minister heading a coalition government.

1999 - Fresh elections give majority to Nepali Congress Party. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai becomes prime minister.

2000 - Prime Minister Bhattarai steps down after revolt in Nepali Congress Party. GP Koirala returns as prime minister, heading the ninth government in 10 years.

2001 April - General strike called by Maoist rebels brings life in much of the country to a virtual standstill; police arrest anti-government demonstrators, including some opposition leaders, in Kathmandu.

2001 1 June - King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and other close relatives killed in shooting spree allegedly by drunken Crown Prince Dipendra, who then shoots himself.

2001 4 June - Prince Gyanendra crowned King of Nepal after the late King Birendra's son, Dipendra - who had been declared king on 2 June - died of injuries sustained during the palace shooting.

2001 July - Maoist rebels step up campaign of violence. Sher Bahadur Deuba becomes prime minister, heading the 11th government in 11 years, after Girija Prasad Koirala quits over the violence.

2001 July - Deuba announces peace with rebels, truce begins.

2001 November - Maoists say peace talks have failed, truce is no longer justified. Launch coordinated attacks on army and police posts.

2001 November - State of emergency declared after more than 100 people are killed in four days of violence. King Gyanendra orders army to crush the Maoist rebels.

2002 April - Maoist rebels order five-day national strike, days after hundreds are killed in two of bloodiest attacks of six-year rebellion.

2002 May - Intense clashes between military and rebels in the west. Rebels declare one-month ceasefire, rejected by government.

Deuba visits Britain and other states, seeking help in the war against Maoist rebels. US President George W Bush pledges $20 million.

2002 May - Parliament dissolved, fresh elections called amid political confrontation over extending the state of emergency. Deuba expelled by his Nepali Congress party, heads interim government, renews emergency.

2002 October - Deuba asks king to put off elections by a year because of Maoist violence. King Gyanendra dismisses Deuba and indefinitely puts off elections set for November. Lokendra Bahadur Chand appointed to head government.

2003 January - Rebels, government declare ceasefire.

2003 May/June - Lokendra Bahadur Chand resigns as prime minister. King appoints his own nominee Surya Bahadur Thapa as new premier.

2003 August - Rebels pull out of peace talks with government and end seven-month truce. Rebels call three-day general strike in September.

late 2003 onwards - Political stalemate; clashes between students/activists and police; resurgence of violence.

2004 May - Royalist Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa resigns following weeks of street protests by opposition groups.

2004 June - King Gyanendra reappoints Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister.

2004 August - Maoist rebels stage week-long blockade of Kathmandu, stopping supplies from reaching the city.

2004 December - Maoist rebels stage week-long blockade of capital.

2005 February - King Gyanendra dismisses Prime Minister Deuba and his government, assumes executive power, declares state of emergency.