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Till kingdom gone

At dawn this morning, hundreds of thousands of our Nepali brethren have begun converging on the ring road that encircles Kathmandu.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2006 00:46 IST

At dawn this morning, hundreds of thousands of our Nepali brethren have begun converging on the ring road that encircles Kathmandu. The popular struggle for the restoration of democracy in Nepal has reached a decisive stage. Many see today’s action as the beginning of the people’s ‘final siege’. The King of Nepal and the monarchy — in itself an anachronism in the modern world — is making a last-ditch effort to preserve itself. The ruthless repression that accompanies this effort is being resisted and, in many cases, overcome by the popular struggle.

The struggle of the people of Nepal for the establishment of democracy has been both long
and arduous. The feudal absolute monarchy established in Nepal some 250 years ago by Prithvi Narayan Shah was consolidated and given a modern status by the 1861 Sugauli Treaty entered with the British colonisers in India.

What followed was brutal feudal exploitation and repression of people as well as the oppression of diverse cultures and identities of various indigenous people who inhabited the area. The high caste Hindus, having monopolised political and economic powers, declared Nepal as a ‘Hindu Kingdom’. Unwilling to be subject to such inhuman repression, a large number of Nepalis were forced to leave the country. This process continues till date.

The mighty Indian people’s struggle for freedom had its effect on Nepal as well. The autocratic prime ministerial system of the Ranas patronised by the monarchy was toppled in 1951. The democratic political process allowed the then king, Tribhuvan, who had fled with his family to India, to return on the understanding that he would head a ceremonial monarchy. The king had then promised elections to a constituent assembly for drafting a Republican Constitution. This promise was never fulfilled.

In 1960, Tribhuvan’s son, Mahendra, dismissed the elected Parliament, jailed elected prime minister and all other political leaders and re-established the absolute control of the monarchy through the infamous system of ‘partyless panchayat’. What followed was a period of brutal repression and denial of basic political and human rights.

After 30 years of prolonged struggle, the monarchy, finally under King Birendra, submitted to the massive popular movement in 1990 and agreed to the establishment of a multi-party democracy. The democratic system that emerged was based on two pillars — the Parliament and the king. Unlike in India, where the ultimate sovereignty rests with the people, in Nepal, the royalty succeeded in retaining crucial control of the royal army, not permitting it to be brought under civilian authority. This created a situation of a dual power centre with the monarchy continuously usurping various powers.

This process, finally, culminated with the ultimate abrogation of democracy in February 2005 by King Gyanendra, who assumed the throne after the stranger-than-fiction massacre of the royal family of Birendra in June 2001. In his efforts to re-establish an absolute monarchy, Gyanendra has unleashed unprecedented terror, using the pretext of controlling the Maoist insurgency which began in 1996 against the monarchy’s repression and erosion of the democratic process.

During the last decade, the royalty sought to consolidate itself by utilising the divisions within the political process and by enlarging the distance between the political parties and the Maoists. However, the popular struggle that began after the February 2005 siege of power by the throne brought all anti-monarchy elements together, which culminated in a historic 12-point understanding between the seven political party alliance and the Maoists in November 2005. This was reiterated in March 2006. This has galvanised the pro-democracy movement in Nepal bringing it to the decisive phase today.

This understanding is significant in many ways. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has, through this statement and independently, clearly indicated that it will renounce the politics of the gun and join the democratic political mainstream, if a republican democracy is established in Nepal. It has clearly signalled that its recourse to using arms was necessitated, in the first place, by the inhuman repression unleashed by the monarchy and in the absence of the democratic space for popular dissent and struggles. This is a significant development which is bound to have far-reaching consequences for similar ultra Left groups in India.

The overwhelming popular support for restoration of democracy rests not only in the people’s urge for a modern, democratic republic that respects universal human rights.

In addition is also the experience of Nepal under democracy since 1990. Nepal saw an unprecedented economic development during its democracy which roused the hopes of the people. In 1990, only 36 per cent of Nepalis were literate. By 2001, this had grown to 64 per cent.

Access to potable drinking water increased from 46 to 80 per cent. Dependency on agriculture decreased from 81 to 66 per cent. Road networking more than doubled and electrification more than quadrupled. Likewise, health services units also quadrupled and life expectancy increased from a little over 50 years to nearly 60 years within a decade. The people of Nepal, therefore, see democracy as a necessary requirement for improving their living standards.

The consequent popular upsurge in Nepal is now revolving around the five basic aims that the agreement between the seven political parties and the Maoists emphasised. These are the reconvening of the dissolved Parliament, the establishment of an all-party government which will conduct the elections for a constitutional assembly, and the simultaneous negotiations with the Maoists for their involvement in the political process. Nothing short of this can satisfy the popular urge today.

The restoration of democracy — and, hence, political stability and peace — in Nepal has a direct consequence for India, South Asia and, indeed, the world. It will also be an important contribution in the worldwide debate and struggles of those who seek justice and freedom through the gun and not through the democratic process.

Those accusing India of interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs must realise that the bonds between the peoples of these two countries go back to centuries. Very often, in the past, both the peoples jointly struggled against oppression and for freedom. Many Nepali political stalwarts, like the late B.P. Koirala, were arrested by the British in India’s struggle for freedom. The solidarity of the Indian people with its Nepali brethren is only natural and does not, in anyway, constitute an interference. The Indian solidarity has been very clear — the contours of Nepal’s future democratic polity will be determined by the Nepali people alone.

The developments that are likely to unfold from today onwards with the popular encirclement of Kathmandu only reminds us of the immortal tarana of Faiz Ahmed Faiz:

“Ai khaak nasheeno uth baitho woh waqt qareeb aa pahuncha hai

Jab takht girae-e jaaen ge, jab taj uchchaale jaaen ge

Ab toot girain gi zanjeerain ab zindano ki khair naheen

Jo darya jhoom ke uthay hain, tinko se nah taaley jaain ge

Kat-te bhee chalo, barhte bhee chalo,

Baazoo bhee bohat hein sar bhee

Chelte bhee chalo keh ab bohat derey manzil hee peh dalay jaain ge.”

The official translation by Daud Kamal (though inadequate): “Bring death to your tormentors /Cracks appear in the leaden sky /Fortresses are being pulled down and dungeons are on fire/The hour is fast approaching when crowns will be tossed on sandy beaches/and thrones kicked into the sea from the tallest cliffs”.

The writer is Rajya Sabha MP and member of the CPI(M) Politburo