Nepal’s unconstitutional turn
To understand the scale of what has just happened in Nepal, and how unconsti-tutionally and undemocratically Prime Minister KP Oli has behaved, think of a hypothetical scenario from the India of 1950s. Imagine a new Constitution has just been promulgated with no provision for the prime minister to dissolve the Parliament at will; Sardar Patel is still alive and challenging Jawaharlal Nehru; Rajendra Prasad is the president but follows Nehru’s diktats; Nehru decides to dissolve Parliament soon after the first elections held under the Constitution after being reduced to a minority in his own party; the President accepts the decision; the Congress splits; all other political forces decide to wage a movement against Nehru; and elections cannot be held. India’s constitutional democracy, just years after its conception, falters.
This is what has happened in Nepal. Mr Oli — facing an intense challenge from his own party — has decided to dissolve the Parliament in violation of constitutional provisions. President Bidya Devi Bhandari, a close associate of Mr Oli, has given her green signal. The State apparatus is under Mr Oli. But the entire political spectrum, civil society, and media is against this action. Mr Oli’s own Nepal Communist Party has decided to take disciplinary action against the PM and is on the verge of a formal split. There is a big difference in announcing and holding elections — and Nepali political history is replete with instances when the failure to hold polls has led to further instability — and it is unlikely that polls will indeed be held. Mr Oli thus is in control of the State, there is no Parliament, and the Opposition is preparing to go on the streets. All eyes are now on the Supreme Court which should, ideally, rule against Mr Oli’s decision since it lacks constitutional sanction.
With this move, Mr Oli has destroyed his credentials and legacy — and even those who may have supported his belligerent nationalism against India have turned against him. It is a lesson that a chauvinist leader, who believes in ethnic supremacist politics and ultra nationalism, is also often undemocratic. Much against Chinese hopes, the Nepali communists will split — and this, frankly, is good for Nepali democracy. For India, it is important to read the situation right. It must not be seen as interventionist and let the domestic debate play out. But, at the same time, it must not be seen as backing Mr Oli — the recent rapprochement with him has led to doubts on the Nepali street — and stand up strongly for democratic principles.