Yuba Nath Lamsal
Nepal is currently passing through a thorny road of prolonged and painful transition. Transition is always painful everywhere in the world as it is marked by instability, uncertainty, chaotic situation and weak law and order often jeopardizing the rule of law. Out of the state of instability and chaos, certain unscrupulous and criminal elements often try to take benefit to serve their vested interests. This is the experience of all countries in the world that faced or are facing transition.
The case of Nepal is a little different. Nepal has experienced protracted and perpetual transition that has been in the process of political trials and errors for more than six decades. Nepal is being used as a political laboratory to test different models of governments and systems. But none has so far worked to suit the interests of the people of Nepal. In a period of a decade or so, we experiment different models of governments and system. We have made trial of different regimes of different colours and creeds. We have experimented dynastic rules, monarchical system and republican democracy. We tested unitary primitive system and a limited decentralized set up in the past. We have already made pledges to opt for federal state structure to ensure a genuine self-rule of the people. The process of federalism is already underway, which would be formalized after a new constitution is promulgated. There are still debates and disputes on the modality and number of federalism. But, given the commitment of the mainstream political parties, there will be no going back again to unitary system. Federalism will be yet another experiment in the history of Nepal’s political governance.
Nepal remained a primitive feudal structure unable to be a nation state for a long time. The concept of nation state emerged only after Nepal came close to contact with the rest of the world. Even during the Rana period, the concept of nation state had still not been developed in Nepal. In the beginning Nepal was a unit of military warriors in the campaign of expanding its territory. Its expansionist spree came to a grinding halt with head-on collision with the British imperial power that had already gobbled up almost entire South Asia except Nepal.
Despite losing a sizable territory to British colonial power in India, Nepal was able to maintain only limited independence. After the Sugauli Treaty in which Nepal lost not only a sizable territory but also it’s independent posture, to a certain degree. With the establishment of British mission in Kathmandu, British colonial power in India started meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs. In practice, Nepal was reduced to a semi-colonial status. The practice of foreign interference began with the arrival of British mission in Kathmandu which indulged in hatching conspiracy in political circle and propping up one faction against the other in the royal court of Nepal. The rise of Ranas and their family oligarchy was the result of the British conspiracy and tendency of Nepali knights and nobles to give in to foreign powers for their petty and personal benefits. Ranas compromised sovereignty and national independence to ensure their hold on power which continued until 1951 when the popular movement overthrew the oligarchic regime and ushered in a democratic regime.
The 1951 political change brought about a new era of open and competitive political environment in Nepal. But, at the same time, it ushered in an era of instability. The period of one full decade saw the height of instability which continued until monarchy took over and imposed absolute power dismantling and disbanding all democratic system and institutions. Despite some upheavals and resistance of the people at different interval of time, Panchayat survived for almost three decades which is relatively more stable period since the 1951 political change. The stability under Panchayat regime was not the spontaneous one but forcibly maintained with iron hands of the absolute monarch and its lackeys.
All the regimes and changes that were brought about in Nepal were experiments behind which foreign hands in collaboration with domestic reactionaries are suspected. Even during the Rana period, conspiracy was the name of the game. In this conspiracy, members of Rana clans were used by the British mission in Kathmandu. Even after the 1951 political change until today, conspiracy and foreign meddling are always behind the change of regimes and system. External meddling has been the fundamental problem of Nepal.
In this sense, Nepal always remained in transition. We tested and experimented limited democracy doled out by the monarchy in 1951 and again a one-party dictatorial regime under monarchy which was called the Panchayat system. With the overthrow of the absolute monarchy of Panchayat, we also experimented multi-party system with more power to the people virtually rendering the monarchy to the status of titular head. We have now made a rupture from the past and transformed Nepal from monolithic unitary system to federal structure. We have bid adieu to the 240 years old feudal monarchy and declared Nepal as a republican state. For the first time in the history of Nepal, an ordinary Nepali citizen was elected as the head of the state— the post was earlier reserved for a particular clan. We have powerful prime minister with all executive powers at his hands. This is, without any shade of doubt, a historic change and great achievement of the people.
We have arrived at this juncture following a long but tough and tumultuous journey. We traversed many transitions and rocky political roads. Even now the goal that we fought throughout history is yet to be achieved. Our goal is stable and vibrant democracy—a genuine democracy that makes the people real masters. We experienced and overcame many transitions and have arrived at this point of history that we Nepalese people are in the process of determining the final course of our journey. The task is difficult but this is a must to ensure our better and brighter future.
This transition from the old feudal and monarchical structure to democratic and republican set up is a new experience in Nepal. The republican set up is yet to be formally institutionalized. As the entire country is in transition, the political parties, too, are finding it a bit difficult in managing themselves and adjusting their activities. All parties are in internal imbroglio with ugly factional fighting. People in the top echelon of party structure and organization are creating their own cliques and factions within the party. There are several parties within a party. Factions are getting stronger whereas parties are dying. This is not the case of any particular party but a common phenomenon of all. The bigger the party, the worse is the factional fighting. All factions are pulling up their sleeves to have upper hand in the organizational structure and leadership. This is because the parties, too, are in transition.
Parties had different political orientation in the past and they are finding it difficult to adjust in the present changed situation. Republican set up and federalism are definitely a new system as the parties and people were accustomed to monarchical and unitary system for 240 years since Nepal was created a unified state. Major political parties, whether wholeheartedly or out of expediency, have welcomed the new scenario and trying to adjust themselves in it. There are some fringe parties which are crying foul to pull the pendulum back to the old monarchical days. There are some other forces that want republic but oppose federalism. The overwhelming majority is for a federal and republican system. Even on the issue of political system major parties are divided. The Congress, CPN-UML, Madhesis and other fringe parties want the continuation of the Western model of capitalist democracy whereas the UCPN-Maoist—the largest party in Constituent Assembly is pushing for ‘ people’s democracy’—something akin to the system that was established in China in post 1949 Revolution. In other words, the Maoists want one-party communist rule in Nepal, which may not be possible in Nepal in the present situation. In China, communist regime was established through a protracted revolution. In Nepal, the Maoists have already suspended armed insurgency and they are in the process of determining the political system and its structure through negotiation and compromise. The communist state cannot be established through compromise. If the Maoists want a communist state, they will have to raise arms and fight guerilla war again. But the Maoists are not in the mood of going back to jungle and fight a guerilla war. Thus, communist state which Maoists want does not seem plausible. What is possible at present is the Western type of capitalist democracy with some modifications and adjustment. The constitution we are writing will be a document of compromise given the present power equation. Thus, parties will have to make compromise on the model of governments which is likely to be a mixed type of system with fundamental elements of western liberal democracy with some socialist economic programmes. In other words, the parties will have to agree on a socialist democracy that would guarantee people’s civil and political rights and also the ‘rights to life’. This is the only way to end the perpetual transition in Nepal.