Prithvi Narayan Shah, 18th century king and the father -figure of Nepal, had once termed his country’s position as “a yam between two boulders”. He was, of course, referring to Nepal’s unusual status between the two intimidating giant powers — India and China. Even to this day, his metaphor aptly defines the existing state of affairs in Nepal’s strategic terms with its neighbours. Despite the fact that Nepal as a nation is far older than both of its principal neighbours, it has not been able to come out of the major influence of the two, especially India.
While the India-Nepal relations have historic backing from a series of factors, China’s quest to downplay India’s special friendly status with Nepal is part of Beijing’s narrow imperialistic ploy. Now, both in international relations and domestic politics, Nepal is facing the adverse implications of recently increased political engagement with China.
In broad terms, Nepal has suffered a lot by mismanaging its conventional role of a passive and focussed nation that tempered its special peaceful standing in South Asia. In his later days, King Birendra shared close relations with China, and so the royal massacre of 2001 shocked the Chinese greatly. King Gyanendra, who then occupied the throne in highly suspicious circumstances and without the respect that his predecessors enjoyed from an average Nepali, sought to cement ties with China by offering it space in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in 2005. India had been understandably less than amused by Kathmandu’s overture to China.
Since the end of the monarchy, Nepal’s politics has turned more inward looking. The breathless twists and turns hatched by political parties, whose working patterns are radically different from one another. Such is the friction among them that the attainment of any goal collectively or individually has become a lot more challenging. After the bloodless coup in February 2005, Mr Baburam Bhattarai, a thinking leader from the Maoists’ camp, came forward against the obstinate ideological hardline pursued by the likes of Mr Puspa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as ‘Prachanda’, called for the democratic means of struggle — that was a point of highest accomplishment in Nepal’s democratic transition.
Things are not similarly idealistic and flexible now, even with Mr Bhattarai as the elected Prime Minister having greater acceptability inside the party and outside. The conclusion that can be drawn over the failures of Constitution making on another deadline is that Nepal’s polity is undergoing a major change in its fundamentals.
Consequently, the assertiveness could be found at an all-time high among the elite political participants, though this is hardly surprising as every major political change in Nepal (even in the past) has created a new class of elite with shrewd aspirations. That’s why the project of democratic revolution has not met with the success that it deserved in Nepal since 1950.
Chronic political deadlock is denting the credibility of mainstream political forces in Nepal. There is the need for an immediate consensus among the country’s political parties to acknowledge the progress that democratic movements have made since 1990, when the county first tasted democracy, although on restricted scale. Misleading demands of the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, the Rashtriya Janshakti Party and others for bringing back the Constitution of 1990 or to go for an election only because the term of the CA has ended is condemnable. Such a move will give a fresh lease of life to a defunct monarchy. Despite the failures of the CA, revisiting the last seven years since the abolition of monarchy presents many positive landmarks on which the future base of democracy could thrive.
In this time of uncertainty, the Interim Constitution of 2006, which is still functioning, can offer the new proposed Constitution all the progressive set of rules that is enshrined in it and has a degree of high credibility. The Interim Constitution consists of all the major issues to be followed in the future, such as the abolition of monarchy, provision of federalism, participative representation in state services and others.
The intra-party feuds in the major political parties of Nepal and the failure of these parties to reach a consensus on crucial issues including on the CA, have severely damaged the democratic spirit of the country through decades of struggle. As compared to the Nepali Congress and the CPN (UML), the Maoists are new to power and lack the soundness they should have as representative of a ruling collation.
The issues of federalism based on ethnic identity need a sensitive response on the policy front. Unfortunately, exactly the opposite has been done by the top political leaders. Before the Madhesi parties’ total convergence with the Maoists on this front and their outsmarting acts over NC-CPN(UML), the region of Madhesh had passed through a rather volatile phase in which many lives were lost in the process of peaceful demonstrations in favour of statehood. A major blast in Janakpur (unofficially Nepal’s political laboratory) left four dead, including an emerging Maithil-Nepali leader Ranju Jha.
Kathmandu has to be more accountable in the changing times to the Madhesi-Janjatis who now have a greater say over political matters and can easily make or break the established political discourse for their long-anticipated rights. The concentration of power in Kathmandu has to be reduced. While this will happen with the upcoming execution of the federal model, it may not cure all the maladies of ‘divisive political mania’. Still, its impact at least in selected terms would be long-lasting in favour of a peaceful and stable Nepal.
In the ongoing round of political manoeuvrings, India has played an apparently passive role. Diplomatically though, this cannot be taken as inertia, as silence speaks too. No longer is India ‘Swyambhu’ and no longer is Nepal ruled by the comprador capitalists.
Atul Kumar Thakur
June 24,2012,Sunday, New Delhi
(Published in The Pioneer, June 18, 2012/ http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/51822-nepal%E2%80%99s-politics-at-a-crossroads.html )