Sher Bahadur Deuba. (REUTERS) Exclusive
Sher Bahadur Deuba. (REUTERS)

The judiciary rescues Nepali democracy

India was on the wrong side of its own democratic values, of public perception in Nepal, and even the power structure, by supporting KP Oli’s domestic, undemocratic, political manoeuvrings. Now, Nepal’s Supreme Court has upheld constitutionalism. India must change course
By HT Editorial
PUBLISHED ON JUL 13, 2021 03:01 PM IST

Nepal promulgated a new Constitution in 2015. Despite its flaws, especially the inadequate inclusion of marginalised social groups and entrenchment of powerful political elites in the power structure, the Constitution laid out a robust framework for parliamentary democracy. KP Oli, as the leader of a mega communist alliance, won a two-thirds majority in 2017. But in three years, Mr Oli had concentrated power, subverted institutions, alienated a large section of his party, and facing the prospect of losing power, recommended the dissolution of the Parliament — which the Constitution does not allow — in December. A close political aide turned Nepal’s President, Bidya Devi Bhandari, played along. The Supreme Court (SC) revoked the decision and restored the House.

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But in May, as the process to appoint a new PM was underway, Mr Oli and Ms Bhandari once again collaborated. The opposition leader, Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba, had the signed support of a majority of parliamentarians. Yet, the president did not accept his claim, and on the prodding of Mr Oli, whose constitutional status as PM was deeply suspect for he had acknowledged just days earlier he did not have the numbers, once again dissolved the house and called for elections. The SC, on Monday, in a historic judgment, restored the House yet again; subjected the President’s decision to a judicial review and termed it unconstitutional; and declared that Mr Deuba be appointed PM on Tuesday itself. With its verdict, the SC has rescued Nepali democracy from an authoritarian figure who was keen to remove all institutional checks in his bid to stay on in power. Mr Deuba, who should have been appointed back in May itself, will now have to prove his majority, and if he fails, will lead the country to elections.

Mr Oli’s exit should have been read as good news in India, for he had stoked ultra-nationalism, allowed China unprecedented space in Nepali politics, changed Nepal’s map to include territory India considers its own, and mocked India’s national symbols. But, unfortunately, since August 2020, in return for Mr Oli’s concessions on the bilateral and strategic front, India supported his domestic, undemocratic, political manoeuvrings and even encouraged its political friends in Nepal to follow suit. By doing so, India was on the wrong side of its own democratic values, of public perception in Nepal, and even the power structure, for Mr Oli’s decline was imminent. New Delhi must be ruing its misjudgment, but it must course correct immediately, engage closely with Mr Deuba and other parties, distance itself from Mr Oli, and send a signal that India will stand with Nepali democracy.

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